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(Walk Walk) Fashion Baby

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James -Bucky to his friends- entered the world of modeling about a year ago after what felt like a series of freakishly lucky breaks. Missing an arm and fresh out of the war, he'd found a good therapist that kicked his ass until he voluntarily left his apartment for more than life-or-death schedule. Not content to deal with just his emotional well-being, she'd gotten him an interview that miraculously ended with him being picked for a pilot prosthetic program. From there he'd met three different tech specialists and two medical doctors and gotten a shiny metal arm. This somehow lead to him being noticed by a scout at the local gym, and recruited for a modeling job, that turned into two, that turned into six... Until James realized that aside from a day of being told where to stand and what to wear, he didn't really have to be social and could earn more than enough money to buy himself a place in Brooklyn.

He's also near to Steve, his best friend, which means he cuts down on annoyingly fluttering phone calls but wakes up to his best friend in his living room snickering and God-knows-what at any given hour of the day.

Today is such a day, and there is loud snickering. Burying his head under a pillow, Bucky groans as loudly as he can and then sits up when the amusement escalates to laughter. "Jesus fucking Christ, PUNK. What the hell are you laughing at?"

"You'll have to get out of bed and come see!" Steve sing-songs, just like Bucky knew he would.

"I was up till one am doing a shoot for some designer leather jacket, and you got me up at-" Bucky pauses and squints at the clock. "At six am? You're a monster, Stevie."

"I brought you coffee from that shop you like and I'm gonna sit here laughing until you get out here." Steve threatens. "If I run out of mine, I'll drink yours, too. Then I'll call Sam and Clint, and I think it's Tasha's day off-"

"ALRIGHT." Bucky snaps, relenting and casting aside his blankets to stomp from his bedroom to the living room where his friend is sprawled on the sofa. "You drink my coffee this early, and I'll kill you. Now whatcha laughin' at?"

Steve is sprawled out on the entire length of the sofa, a tablet braced on his abs and a cup in hand. He looks utterly comfortable in a henley and jeans, his leather bomber jacket and scarf abandoned over the kitchen bar. As Bucky watches Steve braces his legs on the far arm of the couch, booted feet carefully not touching the material.

There's a muffled snort, and a pause while Steve takes a long sip of his coffee. "Hey, Buck.. You r'member that scarf campaign you did?"

"Yeah, it was like the first one after my new arm." He rolls the arm in question, the metal plates gleaming in the soft light of the morning. He hadn't been comfortable with it at the time, flashing bare metal in a shoot that called for a scarf and jeans. But the thick loops of the fabric-covered his scars, leaving only part of his torso and his arms bare. With one metal and one flesh, it certainly had made a statement.

He likes the arm now, it fits him more than he thought it would. Its movements are smooth and almost natural, have been steadily improving with each upgrade until he even has sensation and pressure gauging, now. Evidently the head of the department is constantly making upgrades, so Bucky has a standing appointment with one of his techs every month to get it checked over. He's probably due for another, but that's certainly not the reason Steve is here.

Buck gives it another beat, barely avoids tapping his foot, and then prods gently. "So?"

"So someone made a parody."

Bucky gives an extra long pause, snatching up his drink and sipping slowly before drawling his reply. "Ohkaaay."

Steve snorts again, handing over the tablet with a shake of his head. It's an Instagram page, that much Bucky can see right away. The title reads Mini Mechanic vs Model, and half the photos squares are of him. He says half, because every other image appears to be a sweet two-year-old boy, wearing a nearly identical copy of the outfit Bucky's modeling, and almost always beaming widely.

"What the hell?" He laughing but he can't help it, falling into a seat when Steve yanks him down by the waist of his pants.

Steve just rolls his eyes, reaching over and prodding a square until the image of James leaning against the wall in nothing but denim jeans and a dark navy scarf wrapped in a lazy serpentine fashion about his neck fills the screen. The wall behind him is a somewhat industrial grey, bland and unassuming but it makes the storm-color of Bucky's eyes and the gold of his skin shine. Even the silver metal of his arm glints bright against it.

Bucky's dark hair was still shorter then, closer to the military crop but growing out enough to soften his overall image. They had styled it up like he might have worn it before the war, brushed up and back in the front in a style Steve would endlessly refer to as "fluffy". Sitting well out of frame and offering moral support while he could, Steve had snarked at the hair for only a moment before moving on to call the line of his jaw 'broody' when he'd first seen Bucky strike the pose. Bucky hadn't been able to help the reflexive arch of his eyebrow, and in the photo, there's a hint of amusement around Bucky's eyes along with the sarcastic quirk. Of course, that was mostly because his friend had said it so loud the entire room had heard and the photographer Jan had pointedly "shushed" him.

"You got in so much trouble that day." Bucky grins, shouldering his best friend. "But I'm still real glad you came along."

"Course you are." Steve grumbled. "I'm amazing. Now, look!"

Steve reaches over again, minimizing the photo back to its small square on the whole gallery page, and then selecting the one to its immediate left. It's clearly a recreation, featuring a similarly grey wall, and what may be the exact same thick navy scarf. Said scarf is wrapped twice around the neck and shoulders of a giggling toddler with brown hair and eyes. The hair is a pretty good copy also, dense and fluffy but combed back in a way that suggests 'product' just as much as 'temporary'. Bucky can see the boy's chubby fingers are holding one tail of the scarf, which clearly falls out of frame.

"Christ, scarf's bigger than he is!" Bucky mutters, unable to help being charmed. He scrolls enough to read the caption:
Petey-Pie loves the new #Armani scarf modeled by @JamesB. Thanks for being an inspiration! I think he'll be either a model or a photographer when he grows up. Followers, scroll for outtakes! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model

"Hey, there are more of 'em? And that's my name but I don't have one of these things." Bucky mutters, scrolling back up to the photo and flicking from right to left.

The photo is part of a stack, yielding a second image and a scattering of dots meaning there are more ahead. The second image shows that the carefully combed hair is gone, and the boy is laughing widely with coils of scarf falling down his torso and out of the frame once again. Bucky smiles and scrolls, blinking at the image of the kid holding on what appears to be a metal support strut like he doesn't want to be budged. The scarf is half draped on him and half looped on a metal crane-like object, with a claw at one end that is holding the tail of the scarf with an air of bewilderment.

Metal objects can't be bewildered, so maybe Bucky's just projecting.

"But wait." Steve mutters, reaching over to poke again. He selects another square and it expands, showing the kid passed out on what appears to be a leather sofa. The coil of dark fabric under his cheek probably means he's using the scarf for a pillow, and Bucky is charmed as hell. The metal object from the last image is there too, the claw resting on a loose coil of scarf like a dog imitating its master.

There's another caption: Being @JamesB for a day is apparently exhausting. It's time for this little model to take his nap. Don't worry, no children or 'bots were harmed during this photoshoot. But we're not sure the scarf will survive! Oh well, the things we do for love. #Armani #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #BotNToddlerShenanigans

 

Bucky laughs, unable to help himself. "Who the hell is this guy?"

Chapter Text

Waiting for Bucky to remember he's there, Steve glances idly around the room. There are two plush caramel-colored sofas curled around a darkwood coffee table at the center of the room. The sofas mean there are enough room for Clint, Sam, Steve and Thor to visit at once, in spite of how broad and fit they all are. The coffee table is large enough for drinks and snacks to feed said group of friends, but its got a scattering of health and fashion magazines across it now that no one is around.

Steve pokes them into organized stacks, because he can't help it. But all things considered, the apartment is pretty clean. It's not surprising since it doesn't get much living done in it unless Steve brings the gang over on a Friday night. Steve's best friend is fresh out of bed but is at least wearing black sweatpants that appear to be in good condition, his right shoulder closes to Steve and the metal arm braced against the couch arm to balance the tablet on one black-clad knee. There's soft amber lighting from the various lamps Steve switched on when he invaded, just enough to play off the warm tones scattered around. Steve snaps a picture of Bucky laughing with the tablet, and texts it to Bucky's manager along with a quick message before he thinks better of it.

Steve (The Secret Weapon) Hey Maria, it's Steve. You still in charge of the @JamesB instagram account? I think he may want to take it off your hands.

Maria's response is almost instant, but Steve privately thinks that's because she never sleeps. Or maybe there's an army of interns ready to answer her texts at all hours.

Maria the Manager Good Morning, Steve. I trust he hasn't killed you, but maybe it's because you didn't remind him of his eleven o'clock shoot? I need him there by ten. Yes, of course I still run it. But if he wants to, we can discuss it when he gets in. Do I want to know the why for this change of heart?

Steve (The Secret Weapon) He's got a fan. I'll show you when we get there. But anyone that makes him laugh at 6am is gold in my book.

Maria the Manager Mine too. But Steve? Do remind him about the shoot.

Steve (The Secret Weapon) We're going, we're going....

"Hey Buck?" Steve murmurs in his best casual tone, glancing up from his cell to see his best friend still enamored with the tablet. "You had a shake yet?"

"You pried me out of a dead sleep with all your yammering, what do you think?" Bucky mutters, scrolling again and grinning. "Aww man, have you seen all'a these?"

"No, just one or two." Steve admits, leaning over to brace his chin on Bucky's flesh shoulder to look. "What?"

"Kid did my Calvin Klein shoot." Bucky beams, pointing to a picture of himself in teasingly tight, low slung red Calvins with a pair of black, red and silver tennis shoes draped teasingly around his neck. Even with the shoes hanging over his shoulders, the muscles of his chest and hips are clearly visible. He's got more of a smouldering expression than he prefers, and his hair is carefully styled.

He swipes down and over, picking the parody picture with an even wider grin. The toddler boy is back with shoes in the right colors, but his own size, draped over his shoulders. He's wearing shorts as opposed to the briefs Bucky had been modeling,but they're black and red striped and clearly the right brand. His hair is spiked straight up in comparison, but is grin is wide with a glimpse of baby teeth. James maybe melts a little.

So, we're at it again! Petey-pie saw his favorite model with some new kicks, and needed them too! @JamesB we appreciate that 'nothing comes between you and your Calvins' but only because the color scheme is spot on. #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #CalvinKlein

"Buck, you have a shoot at eleven and if we're not there by ten, Maria will murder us both." Steve coaxes, swiping the Stark tablet out of his friend's hands. "I'll give it back once you're showered and dressed and we are on our way to see your terrifying manager."

"Fine! Fine..." Bucky grumbles and goes. A shower will give him time to think about how to bring this up to Maria, and whoever else knows about it.

Chapter Text

Bucky barely has time to blink when he walks into the living room, fully dressed. Without hesitation Steve shoves keys in his hand and spins him about by one elbow, shoving him toward the front door. The tablet is tucked securely under Steve’s arm, a to-go drink in hand, and without hesitation he pushes Bucky out the front door of the apartment, locks it, and tows his best friend down the hallway to the front door.

“Steve, Steve we got plenty of time.” Bucky grumbles, dragging his combat booted heels just because he can.

The blond gives minimal notice at the weight resistance, hauling him along and grumbling all the while. When they hit the sidewalk outside Steve turns him loose for a minute, leaning over the curb and whistling sharply enough to make Bucky wince. Steve’s tall and built like some ideal soldier, his chest broad and arms well-muscled, and mostly Bucky’s glad Steve didn’t just throw him over one shoulder to get him out the door, because Steve’s a shit and he’s done it before. But it also means that they never have to wait long for a cab, because Steve's awfully hard to miss.

In response to Steve’s whistle a cab careens to a halt beside the towering blond, and Steve whips the door open before gesturing sharply at Bucky. With a lift of his hands to indicate surrender, Bucky meekly ducks into the cab and slides over, watching Steve sidelong as the blond throws himself in after. Steve barks the address to the cabbie before he deigns to hand over the tablet again, but he gives Bucky the coffee without prompting.

“Thanks Stevie, you’re the best.” Bucky murmurs as he settles into his corner, and sips at the drink.

“Don’t you forget it, Jerk.” Steve returns fondly, watching him all the while.

His best friend is somewhat broody, a hoodie layered under a denim jacket to cover his arm, a cap low-slung to hide his face, jeans that look normal but probably cost regular people two hundred dollars. He lights up the minute the tech is in his hand again, clicking happily to get through the lock screen and back to the Instagram account. He doesn't even look at Steve as he sips at his drink, but his low rumble of approval makes the blond beam at him anyway.

“Stevie I think this kid is winning. He’s my new biggest fan, you’ve been replaced man and I’m sorry.” Bucky leans against him to soften the words, tilting the screen. There’s a photo of James in a plain gray hoodie, layered over a deep navy tee that clings to his muscles. He’s looking off to the right of the frame his expression relaxed and casual. Bucky swipes sideways and the kid’s doing a damn good imitation, the soft green foliage in the background indicating he’s out at the park. Bucky scrolls again, and now the little boy is actually holding the magazine with the photo in it, beaming wildly.

Petey-Pie said that we had to go out to the park for this look, so here we are. He insisted on bringing the magazine too, and apparently three different little old ladies have decided they are his grandmothers, and he wore it better. Sorry @JamesB, the public has spoken! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MyKidIsTheBest #LimelightOverNightlight

“Cute.” Steve allows, sighing when Bucky promptly slumps into his shoulder. “What? I said he was cute.”

“Not good enough.” Bucky mutters, scrolling through photos in search of who-knows-what. “This kid’s adorable. What’s wrong with you? I’m tellin’ ya, replacing you with him. It’s happening.”

Love you too, Jerk. Steve thinks fondly, and for his part of the ride just goes back to texting Maria.

Steve (The Secret Weapon) We’re in the cab and on our way over now.

Maria the Manager Good. He’ll be early and I won’t have to kill him.

Steve (The Secret Weapon) Don’t say that until you’ve managed to wrestle the tablet out of his hands. I think I’ve created monster.

Not too far from the photo of the kid in the grey hoodie, there’s another snap of Bucky in one of his more casual outfits. He’s doing pushups in a field, a serious expression on his face, a black tee clinging tightly to his arms and chest, and the tree-line and sky somewhat indistinct behind him. When he scrolls to the remake he has to grin, noticing how “Petey” is more or less just lying in the field and his expression is somewhere between confused and sulky.

Bucky scrolls again, freezing on an odd-angled image of the boy sprawled out and sleeping on what appears to be an adult man’s torso. It’s clearly the ‘my child has me pinned but I must take a photo’ position, but the angle isn’t bad and the natural lighting doesn’t overwhelm. There’s a faint suggestion of muscle under the black fabric of the tee, and a part of an arrow-like aqua logo vanishing beneath the clutch of fabric in the toddler’s chubby fist. Bucky can see a brightly colored blanket visible in one corner of the image, and grass in the other. He can also just make out a tan arm and hand wrapped up around to hold the kid in place.

Petey-Pie says that push-ups are no fun at all, even in the park. So instead he’s gonna nap on his Papa, and we’ll try to do better next time! @JamesB take five? #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MyKidIsTheBest #NapTimeIsTheBestTime

There’s comments on this post, and James has seen them before but he doesn’t usually care to read. Still, the first one catches his attention, so he scrolls a bit and reads on.

ParkAvePepper Just when I thought your “Father and Son” matching outfits were the end, you let him dress up like models and start mini photo-shoots? Stop being adorable, and give Peter a kiss for me!

MiniMechanicVsModel Reply: ParkAvePepper- I can’t help it! But if it keeps us both out of trouble, I won’t even try to! XoXo from Petey-Pie! P.S. He says you have to be in the next one!

Bucky scrolls away from the series of “He’s so cute!” comments that follow, backing out to the main page curiously. The next modeling photo makes him laugh, because it’s just James and an acoustic guitar. Considering positioning he could be naked, with just a boring white wall behind him. He takes a breath and then scrolls, beaming at the sight of the toddler standing on a cream-colored marble floor, most of his body out of sight due to the lean of the guitar. Peter is looking upward and to the right, the opposite of how James had been posed. When he scrolls right next he sees why, and can’t help but stare.

The third segment is a video, shot on a cellphone at a decent distance. Peter is standing on the floor beside a large grand piano, the surface all glossy black and gleaming under overhead lights. He’s hugging the guitar but open-mouthed, a delighted expression on his face as he stares at a dark-haired man in a navy-colored sweater. The man in question, probably the one who usually posts all of these, appears to have no clue he’s being filmed, and Bucky can’t see his face. Just styled dark hair, broad shoulders, and beautiful hands gliding over the keys as this stranger plays a soothing tune, singing softly to his baby boy.

This has been a mini-takeover by [ParkAvePepper] Featuring Peter doing his best @JamesB impression, and a special guest performance! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MusicMan #TIfYouDeleteThisIWillKillYou

“Ahh, Hell.” Bucky exhales softly to himself, and hits play again.

Chapter Text

Wish I had a river I could skate away on, Oh I wish I had a river...

Bucky only lets himself watch the piano clip three more times before he navigates away from it and goes looking for the next stack of photos. He’ll want to watch it again with headphones later, but between the cabbie’s chatter and the low hum the radio he’d just prefer to let it be for now. Besides, if Steve catches on he’ll never hear the end of it.

As it is, Bucky’s probably already too invested in this, in this cute kid that dresses like him and the witty, doting father that clearly goes along with it. The same father that puts his baby in designer clothes and shares pictures of how cute he is. Plays piano and sings when he thinks no one is watching, just for his baby boy. It’s cute, heart-wrenchingly cute, and Bucky is way too into it but he scrolls along to the next image anyway.

There’s a more casual photo of James, sprawled on a middle step with his legs resting wide and forearms draped casually over his knees. He’s dressed in red skinny jeans and a black Sex Pistols tee, layered under a grey hoodie and a black leather jacket. His hair is lightly ruffled, stubble on his jaw and upper lip, eyes shielded by a pair of Oakley sunglasses. If he remembers right that had been a good day, easy in terms of wardrobe in demands. Casual clothing, poses in a park, on the street, in a few alcoves and leaning against the building. The sprawl on the steps had been last, and there were even photos of him laughing due to banter with one of the makeup-techs.

Remembering it fondly, Bucky happily moves on to the recreation. In an instant he’s beaming at the sight of Peter wearing a pretty spot-on echo of the outfit. True, the toddler’s shirt is a Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon tee, but his glasses look like a dead ringer for the Oakley style Bucky was wearing. The fact that they’re endearingly large just makes the picture all the more adorable, Peter’s chubby fists clenched around the arms of the glasses to hold them in place. Bucky’s heart melts and he’s muffling a chuckle but grinning wide before he swipes to the next image.

And suddenly it’s a little harder to breathe. The father is back, draped with a cat-like sort of insolence on the steps with Peter in his lap. His jeans are a dark indigo and look new, generously hugging his legs as he sprawls on the stone stairs with beat up black boots nearly disappearing out of frame. The leather jacket he wears looks new, looks expensive, but there’s a hint of a well-worn tee beneath it that makes Bucky smile. He’s pretty sure it’s a Black Sabbath tee, and between that and the kid wearing Pink Floyd... Well, Bucky’s pretty sure they’re not all bad.

They got good taste, anyhow.

In this photo the father is the one wearing the matching Oakley glasses, half of his face hidden where it’s tucked against his son’s curls. His skin is a warm olive tone, tan and healthy, and what Bucky can see of his jawline is proud and clean-shaven, disappearing into the riotously tangled black and copper of Peter’s wind-whipped curls. For his part Peter has his own pair of sunglasses on, his mouth wide open in an obvious shriek of laughter. This kid is so cute that Bucky's gonna have cavities, and he doesn't care at all.

[ParkAvePepper] strikes again! Featuring Peter as a beautiful model for Oakley giving us yet another great @JamesB impression. Back by popular demand (and with a little threatening) a special guest appearance! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MusicMan #FatherNSonFashionIcons #TIfYouDeleteThisIWillKillYou

“We’re here.” Steve murmurs in a tone that indicates it’s not the first time he’s said it. When Bucky looks up from the tablet his friend is waiting outside of the cab, making a grabby hand gesture as through trying to hurry him along. “Come on, I paid the man, Maria’s waiting and we’ve got to go!”

“So bossy.” Bucky mutters, sliding across the back seat and making a hissing sound when Steve uses it as a chance to steal the tablet. “Hey! I wasn’t done with that!”

“You’re gonna have to be, get out outta the damn cab, Buck.” Steve gripes. “And finish your coffee, we can’t bring it into the building, it is evidence and Maria will end us both.”

Bucky puts on his best out, whining and pawing at his best friend with his flesh hand. “Steeeeve.”

“Buck, in all our years of friendship I never through I’d have to say this. But please, please, for the love of Brooklyn stop mooning about your fake boyfriend, drink your damn coffee, and get in the building.”

“Hey now!” James growls, eyes going narrow in warning. “He ain’t my anything, and you know it. Take that back right now, Steven Grant.”

Steve gives him an unimpressed look, clearly unphased by the use of his middle name. “Drink your damn coffee. Get in the building.”

“You ‘n me are gonna have words, Stevie.” Bucky mutters as he closes the cab door behind him. “Not-so-nice words.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Steve mumbles, glancing at the building hesitantly. “Finish your coffee and let’s go.”

“Man I cannot wait to get you married off to anyone that’ll take you.” Bucky muttered, emptying the coffee cup and tossing it in a convenient recycling bin. “The very first person. Just so I can finally have some peace of mind.”

“If your evil plan ever does work, note that there are contingency plans in place.” Steve replies blandly, opening the front door and ushering Bucky through. The tablet remained tucked under his arm, and he gave no hint of returning it as he pushed the button to summon the elevator and then gesture Bucky into the waiting elevator car. “Maria has promised to seduce Natasha back from the West Coast and assign her exclusively to you.”

Bucky gave him the look he deserved, then slouched into the elevator and tucked himself into the corner with a fold of his arms over his chest. “You’re a terrible human being. You know that? The absolute worst.”

Steve hit the button for their floor and gave Bucky his flattest, most uncaring look. “Yeah, I know… keeps me up at night.”

Bucky waited for the doors to close, then punched him in the arm. “Asshole.”

Steve smirked, eyes fixed on the tablet and refusing to let Bucky look at it. “You love it.”

Chapter Text

Steve sees Bucky to the makeup chair, gives his stylist a sympathetic look that she doesn’t quite seem to understand, and goes in search of Maria. The strict, non-nonsense brunette woman is in the studio on the third floor, hissing orders into a Bluetooth headset and gesturing emphatically at two different assistants. She looks imposing in her crisp navy suit, her dark brown hair swept up in a tight ponytail. It snaps with any severe movement, emphasizing her ire.

The assistants both seem young, unassuming college kids wearing polos and slacks. Steve guesses they’ve at least survived a month or they’d still be wearing ties and jackets, because they haven’t learned that she’d rather they bolt to do her bidding than show up in a full suit and remain pristine all day long. The kids seem to understand what she’s attempting to convey because they bolt a moment later, tearing off in different directions with their arms loaded with clothing and other trappings.

Hesitant to earn her fury, Steve waits, giving her a half-wave when she seems to glance in his direction. “Nick, I’ll call you back. I have things to do before seven. Thank you.”

“Maria.” Steve murmurs hesitantly when she gives a firm nod. “Good morning?”

“Hello Steve.” She replies with a flash of humor in her sky-blue gaze, a faint smile curling across her mouth. “I have to admit, I didn’t expect you two to make such good time.”

“I bribed him with a coffee.” Steve shrugs. “Darcy said she’d have a shake for him by the time he was done with makeup, but considering that he’s glued to a tablet right now… Well, that might take a while.”

“Well our nine o’clock called out, so I thought we’d move him up anyway.” Maria murmured, tapping firmly at her tablet. “So, why is he glued to his tablet?”

Steve flushed, ducking his head shyly. “You uh… have you heard of the Mini Mechanic blog yet?”

For some reason, Maria looks him dead in the eye and laughs.

*

Bucky is fighting the urge to coo over Peter’s attempt at re-creating his shirtless handstand as he finishes off his coffee. The little boy is wearing black shorts just like James was, but instead of holding himself up there are noticeable tan hands around his ankles. Evidently delighted by being held upside down by his father, the boy’s laughing wildly in the photo. Bucky scrolls to the next and smiles at the sight of the toddler upright once again, sitting on the floor but still laughing.

Kate’s wearing a bright violet headband, a matching mini-dress and is popping neon pink gum loudly when she sticks her face between Bucky and the tablet. “Who is the cutie? You got a baby mama and didn’t even tell me? I’m hurt, Jamie, cut to the very heart.”

“Good morning to you.” Bucky mutters around a mouthful of her silky black hair, pushing her gently out of his space but smiling fondly when she makes a grab for the tablet. He stretches his left arm out because he can, watching her paw ineffectively. “No, mine.”

“The baby, tell me.” Kate demands, rocking back on her heels and planting a fist on each hip. “You talk or I don’t start making you pretty, and then Maria yells at you.”

“He ain’t mine, okay?” Bucky mutters, dragging the tablet back into range and showing her the summary of the account. “Someone with a cute kid keeps recreating my photos. Stevie showed me this morning, and he's cute... 'specially with his dad, so I keep lookin'. They just keep getting better.”

“Do you have a favorite? Have you told ‘em yet?” Kate murmurs, leaning over his shoulder and cooing. “Gosh, I could eat him up with a spoon!”

“Pretty sure Maria’s running the account, or maybe one of the interns. Either way, I haven’t said anything to ‘em, but I wouldn’t mind talking to the dad since he seems to be putting in some work to do recreate all of these.”

“How long has it been going on?” Katie pokes at the screen and scrolls a bit. “Ah, see that? The first staged photo to parody yours is only from about a month ago. Some of these early ones seem like they’re just mini-model pictures, maybe their parent is in the business and that’s why this started?”

“How do I figure that out?” Bucky wonders, watching as Kate begins poking and sliding through a few of the early images.

“Aside from taking over your own account and writing back something like ‘Awww he’s the cutest thing are you single and do you wanna get married?’, you mean?” Kate shrugged. “Eh, give me a few minutes with that and put on your own moisturizer, and I’ll see what I can do?”

“You’ve got yourself a deal.” He grins, handing the tablet over and accepting a bottle in return. “But tell Steve about this and you’re toast.”

“My lips are sealed.”

*

“You’re telling me that James Barnes, our James Barnes, is willing to get on social media and socialize with complete strangers… but mostly because he wants to coo over a two year old that’s recreating his fashion shoots with the help up of his dad and a robot?” Maria murmured, arching one eyebrow in question.

Steve fights the urge to blush and scuffs a booted foot on the floor, shrugging. “Pretty sure Buck wants to write back to whoever is running the account for Peter, yeah. He could probably even be talked into doing some casual stuff, like candid photos, beyond all the regularly curated shoots. I think it’ll be good for him.”

“Willing to brave social media all for some guy, huh?” Maria shrugged. “Must be one hell of a crush, but sure, why not? The Model and the Mechanic has a nice ring to it.”

Steve blinks in surprise, titling his head in question. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Maria snorts, and gives a pitying shake of her head. "I'll tell you when you're older, Steve."

Chapter Text

Bucky has had enough of Kate cooing over photos out of his eye line, so he reaches up and grabs the tablet corner to drag it down into view. It says something about the girl that she goes along with it, but doesn’t relinquish her hold on the other side. Pulled up on the screen there’s a photo of him in a deep burgundy sweater, open over his bare chest with a coffee cup in hand. The recreation shows Peter in a grey button up sweater, a sippy cup in hand as he grins up out of frame.

“This kid is killin’ me.” Bucky mutters, looking fondly at the tablet.

Kate scrolls again and now the boy has a milk mustache and an empty coffee cup, staring right into the camera with wide eyes. Another swipe and his father is back, wrapping the boy in black clad arms and pretending to gnaw on his shoulder. Father and son are curled in a tangle of limbs, black fabric and gray wrapping around each other, Peter’s shriek of laughter captured in the photo.

“Jesus, look how adorable they are.” He looks so damn cute that Bucky wants them laughing next to him in person, just for comparison.

“Uh huh, they… So do you really like the guy too, or just this cute little munchkin of his?” Kate mutters as she pokes at the screen, avoiding Bucky’s glance as she works.

"Don't you start on me too." He mutters, giving her a pouty look. "Steve's already unbearable."

“Fine. So, MiniMechanicVsModel is apparently a side project. Some of the first photos have captions or comments that look like they’re from friends.”

“Like what?” Bucky asks as he releases the corner and leans closer to the mirror, working the moisturizer into his skin as he listens.

“Uh, stuff from a few repeat bloggers… One of them seems pretty close to him, like this: ‘War Machine: Man he’s getting so big, definitely gonna follow this and I expect daily updates!’. Don’t think he’s famous, though… There’s also a few from Wayne, of all people, which would blow my mind except famous, wealthy, beautiful people collect famous, wealthy, beautiful people. So, it’s not a surprise, right? Because from what I can tell, your guy is hot and his munchkin is adorable. Ergo hot guys with likewise adorable munchkins would wanna be his friends too.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone with a kid as cute as that.” Bucky interrupts loyally.

Kate hesitates and he can feel her side-eying him as she continues. “Your adorable bias aside… There’s a few likes and some casual stuff and then Wayne posted ‘MakinItWayne: Play date soon? Also, tell Pepper that she needs to get more pictures of you on here. Wholesome dad looks good on you.’.”

There’s something in the corner of Bucky’s head that’s snarling about anyone complimenting his internet crush… But he recognizes just how weird that would be to voice, so he shoves it down. Instead, he’s saved from asking Who is Wayne? by the sudden return of one Steven Rogers. Looking up at his best friend with wide eyes, he attempts a half-smile. “Heeyyy Stevie…”

Steve bounces back into the makeup room and comes to a dead halt, narrowing his eyes. “That greeting was weak… and Kate should be working on your face, not playing on the tablet. What are you up to, Buck?”

“Nothing.” Kate chirps, closing a window and locking the tablet before setting it aside with an innocent look. “I took it hostage so he’d stop playing around. Having to do his own moisturizer is his punishment. Why are you back so soon?”

“Maria had a model cancellation today so she wanted to know if we could get Buck done and out there early.” Steve murmured, planting his hip against a countertop and folding his arms over his chest. “So, how about it?”

“Oh, we can make him pretty.” Kate murmurs agreeably, lunging for bottles. “Or at least, I can put his face on. I mean, I’m not a miracle worker but I do okay.”

“Love you too, Katie-bell.” Bucky snipes at her blandly, closing his eyes as she attacks. “You stickin’ around, Stevie?”

Steve put on his driest tone, knowing his best friend would hear it. “Watch you get pretty? Sure, I’ve been wanting to do that my whole life.”

Bucky smiles. “Shut up, Punk.”

“Make me, Jerk.”

“Katie? Lemme outta this chair, I gotta kick this punk’s ass.”

“Hey now, in front of a lady? Language, Buck!”

“Kate I swear to God, lemme up right this minute. This back-talking jackass is just askin’ for it now.”

“We don’t have time for you two to wrestle, though I would dearly love to watch.” Kate replies, switching brushes and fluttering about without hesitation. “Maybe later. Jamie, darling, mouth shut and chin up. Steve? Don’t antagonize him.”

“Yes ma’am.”

*

Steve meanders over to Bucky during a set change, waiting for Kate and Darcy to half-strip and re-dress his best friend before offering him a bottle of water. They take his jeans and jacket away, giving him a jacket back in return. Steve doesn’t think it’s a very fair trade, but for his part Bucky just gives him a faint smile, opening and half-draining it without pause. “Thanks Stevie.”

“Sure thing.” Steve smiles. “So I talked to Maria this morning… and she said she’d be happy to turn over the account to you as long as you add stuff and leave the queued content rolling.”

Bucky tilts his head, thoughtful and unselfconscious. He’s waiting to be called back into set but standing there in a pair of navy Calvin Klein briefs and a grey hoodie, the hood up over his half-styled hair. “Means I don’t have to pick stuff out of the older shoots, since she’s got it all lined up? I can just post whatever I want in addition to it?”

“Pretty much.” Steve shrugged. “She’s got some stuff from your last couple shoots lined up to post on like a weekly basis, to keep it consistently active. Gave me a card with the information so you can put the app on your phone and go crazy… but after the photoshoot.”

“You’re a jerk.” Bucky muttered, grumbling louder when the photographer hailed him. He shoots his friend a glare and walks off, chucking the water bottle over his shoulder. “We’re gonna talk about it later.”

“Yeah, I’m super scared.” Steve muttered as he catches it, shaking his head and raising his volume. “Or at least I would be if you weren’t threatening me in your Calvins and a hoodie.”

“Bite me, Rogers!”

"You better watch who you proposition when you're dressed like that." Steve snipes. "Or not dressed like that, technically."

"Steven Grant, I will fight you." Bucky threatened with a final narrow eyed look and a threatening point. "You just watch yourself."

“Your internet boyfriend would hate to see you bruised!”

“I hate you.”

“You only wish you could, Barnes, you only wish you could.”

Chapter Text

Grateful for a hint of quiet at the end of what turned into a sort of double photoshoot, Bucky closes the door to makeup with a kick and throws himself into the chair. He waves at Kate where she's leaning against a far mirror, smiling weakly at Darcy's greeting.

"Hey Jamie."

"Hey Darce. How's the internship?"

"Doin' okay. How're you?"

"I get by, Sugar."

"Good to hear, handsome." She quips back. "I'm borrowin' your girl for another minute."

"That's just fine... Gimme a few to find myself again."

Listening to Kate and Darcy continue to mutter in the corner he melted into his chair, sprawling in front of the mirror.

"Bye Jamie." Darcy departed with a soft murmur, leaving Bucky alone in makeup with Kate.

Eyes still closed, he wearily raised his metal arm and waved her out.

“You ok, Soldier boy?”

“A bullet would be less painful.” Bucky muttered and let Kate flutter around him as she wished. “And I can say that, cuz I been shot before."

"Alright... But if you start making jokes about how it was worse than losing your arm, I am punching you in the head and then I'm calling Steve."

"That's fair, I wouldn't do that to ya... But I was supposed to have a light day. Maria gets a cancellation and suddenly I’m trapped under the lights for four hours.”

“Your paycheck is gonna look so good, though.” She chirped, ruffling his hair. "Almost as good as you looked all day long, I'm sure."

“Not half as good as a hot tub sounds right now.” With his legs sprawled out in front of him he sunk down a little further, resting his head on the back of the chair and just enjoying the chance to decompress.

Minutes passed, the silence stretching like taffy until Katie broke it.

“Soooo.” Kate murmured as she wiped away his makeup.

“So.” Bucky retorted blandly. “Spit it out, Katie-bell.”

“You’re taking over the Instagram, Steve said.”

“Steve needs to shut his goddamn mouth.” Bucky sighs, weary, tilting into the brush of her hand. “But yeah, I am. Why, you wanna friend me?”

Kate snorts. “Please, what kind of professional do you take me for? I already friended the account, but now I demand you reply back when I comment on how pretty you are.”

“How about-” He pauses, putting on a high falsetto tone and fluttering his lashes, “ ‘Only because you made me that way! XOXO, Jamie!’.”

He drops the act even as she snickers, giving her a bland look and speaking at his normal pitch once again. “How’s that?”

“Yeah, let’s go with that!” She chirps and he laughs, ignoring her chiding prod of a finger. “Make me look more professional, I’m all for it.”

“What are you doing that isn’t professional?”

There’s a moment of silence, and Bucky cracks open one eye to squint at her. For her part, Kate looks nervous, so he can’t help but prod. “Katie?”

“How do you feel about drunken archery competitions?”

Bucky is quiet for a minute, then two, wondering if he heard what he thinks he just heard. Eventually he just shakes his head. “… what?

“Listen, I get bored, and I have this friend…”

Bucky held up a hand, squinting. “If this friend is Clint Barton, I’mma ask you to just not finish that thought.”

Kate hesitated a moment, then nodded. “That’s fair… that’s more than fair.”

“Why do you still talk to that madman?”

“He taught me how to put on a face, remember? Why do you still talk to him?”

“Stevie gave him my address and has fed him on multiple occasions.”

“Once you feed him, he never leaves.”

“Tell me about it.”

“You know he’s a friend of the account too, right? Has to keep me honest, he always says.” Kate murmurs as she removes the last of the foundation and pinches his right cheek. “Can’t blame him. If you ever decide to get a new girl, you know I’m gonna judge the hell out of her.”

Every time she finishes she pinches Bucky’s cheek, and of course this time is no difference. He remains passive through it all, used to the routine, and then gives her his best drawl. “I didn’t get rid of Clint, so don't make it sound like I tossed him out and invited you over. You sure as hell are an upgrade tho, go ahead and tell him I said so! But I doubt I’ll go lookin’ for a new girl. Don’t you know you’re the apple o’ my eye, Sugar?”

“You know, you could sell me on just about anything before this morning.” Kate laughed. “But now that I’ve seen how gooey you are over that kiddo? I don’t believe you when you put your fake doe-eyes on me.”

“That’s fair.” Bucky grinned, digging out the card and opening the app store on his phone. “Speaking of, I think I need another dose of that munchkin.”

“You better show me, too, I miss him already.” Kate grumbled, giving him a shove. “You’ve totally ruined me.”

"If I'm goin' down, I'm takin' someone with me, Bishop."

"Put your money where your mouth is and show me that boy again. If you're leaving I'm gonna need something adorable to get me through the rest of the day."

"Flattery will get you everywhere, Katie-bell."

"Don't you think I know that? In this business, it's my bread and butter."

"Damn you, now I want carbs."

"Ahhh, the best thing about being on this side of the camera."

"Why'd you have to go and say that? Now I hate you a little."

"I've spent an hour looking at your face today. I hate you more than a little, James Barnes."

"Christ you got sharp edges when you're miffed, kiddo."

"Haven't you finished downloading the app and signing in yet? Come on Grandpa, you're wasting daylight!"

"I'm workin' on it, Damn!"

*

Chapter Text

Kate leans over Bucky’s shoulder, grinning as he pulls up the Instagram account page and scrolls down to the end. There are muffled squeaks of exclamation and protest as he goes, but he ignores her for the most part.

“Jamiiiiieeee.” She wheedles.

He’s pretty sure he should text Clint Barton and bitch at him for starting this peculiar tradition. For whatever reason, the makeup artist had taken one look at Bucky the first time the model sat in his chair and shaken his head. ‘I’m not callin’ you James.’

Bucky remembers looking at him in bewilderment. ‘My friends call me Bucky?’

‘Well we just met, so I don’t want to presume. How about I call you Jamie, and you tell me when I graduate from flirty frat boy to redneck nicknames. Cool?’

Bucky had laughed, at a stranger, for the first time in a long time. ‘You’re an asshole, but sure.’

‘Save the nicknames for later, Jamie. Mouth shut and chin up, I’ve gotta make you beautiful.’

Somehow, it had gone beyond Clint to Maria, then Kate, and Darcy… Now half the set-crew calls him Jamie if they know him, James if they don’t. Only Steve, Clint and Sam call him Bucky. He should probably protest more than he does, but it warms something in him.

Her chin is bony where it digs into his clavicle, and he swats at her ineffectively. “Stop breathin’ in my ear, Katie-bell. I’m typing and scrolling as fast as I can.”

Resituating with a gentle prod, she throws her arm over his other shoulder and pokes him in the cheek. “Starting at the beginning? Gonna like and comment on every single one? You’re such a gooey cinnamon roll, Jamie.”

“I’mma need you to stop talkin’ to me like that.” Bucky grumbles, poking back over his shoulder and managing to bop her on the forehead. “You wanna see the munchkin or no?”

“Hell yeah I do, show me my future nephew.”

“Katie-bell, we ain’t related.” He speaks to her with a mock gentleness, as though softening the blow.

“I put your face on every day, I may as well be your sister.”

Bucky gives it a moment, then inclines his head. “Ya know what? You promise to make me pretty for our wedding, and you got yourself a deal.”

“DEAL!” She squawked joyously in his ear, making him wince and laugh. “No take-backsies, big bro!”

“Yeah, yeah. I hate this already.” He grumbles playfully, tilting his head to tap his skull against hers. “Don’t make me regret it.”

“Quit stalling and show me the sweetheart.” Kate grumbled, taking up a delighted croon when he obediently taps and pulls up a photo. There’s a side-by-side of Buck standing between two potted hibiscuses, outside a high-end hotel with sleek cars in the background. He’s wearing a fitted tee and casual shorts, sneakers and socks. There's a backpack strap showing over one shoulder.

Peter is doing his best serious model face and fashion walk, a similar black tee on and identical shoes and socks. He's got a backpack on also, and is standing between two topiary hedges. In the background there's a gorgeous silver car, parked on a warm cream stone driveway, in front of the faint hint of a mansion.

Just like most others, this image is part of a stack, so when Kate prods him with her chin again he scrolls to the next one. Peter’s smiling now, squinting against the bright sun, the photo taken more on his level with more of the greenery in the background.

“What a little honey.” Kate coos.

“The cutest.” Bucky grins, swiping again. This time Peter is leaning against the wheel well of the car, newly acquired black sunglasses and his black shirt standing out against the silver. “Killin’ me.”

“That’s a nice ride, too.” Kate murmurs, reaching over to swipe to the next photo and earning herself a glare. She coos again at the sight of Peter sitting on the swooping hood of the car, this one taken further back to show more of the vehicle. “Munchkin knows it, and his Daddy clearly has good taste.”

[MiniMechanicVsModel] Petey-Pie is back working fashion like @JamesB taught him to. He’s happy out here being a California Boy, and we’ve got plenty of photos planned for you guys. Today, the #SaleenS7, tomorrow the beach! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MyKidIsTheBest #PlayHard #MalibuBaby

“Hey look at that.” Kate murmurs, pointing at a top comment. “That’s Pepper Potts.”

“Why should I know that name?”

“She works for one of the most eligible bachelors in the world?”

[ParkAvePepper] Bring him to the meeting and he rules the world before he’s three. James and I have a bet on it.

[MiniMechanicVsModel] Pepper, Pepper-Pot, Spice of my life. I love my son and I’m not making him sit through a meeting. We’ll blow you kisses from the beach!

“Is he cute?” Bucky asks idly as he scrolls again and smiles at the sight of the father and son duo cheek-to-cheek with shades on. The angle only shows the top of their faces, from their cheekbones up and part of the seats of the car, but brown curls are wind-whipped and sunlit.

They look happy, and something in Bucky’s chest aches.

“Uh yeah.” Kate mutters in his ear. “I can’t believe you don’t know who Stark is.”

James is typing as she begins chiding him for his lack of knowledge. [ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel Man, you Malibu Boys sure do make this look good! I like a little competition though, keep up the great work!

“You’re too busy talking to your future Baby Daddy to listen to me, aren’t ya?”

“What was your first clue?”

“You’re smiling to start with. It’s totally weirding me out.”

“Bite me, Bishop.”

“No thanks, Cinnabon. You’re not my type.”

“Thank God for that.”

Chapter Text

Waiting for Bucky to return, Steve reaches into pocket for his phone, and abruptly realizes the card from Maria is missing. He’s ninety-nine percent sure Bucky picked his pocket, probably when they were mock-wrestling before he left to get back into street-clothes. Which makes sense, since he seems to be taking longer in makeup than usual.

“Work, work, work.” Steve sighs to himself, smiling faintly as he strolls through the halls and knocks at the door. He hears Kate call an all clear and twists the knob, stepping into the room and frowning at them both.

For their part, Kate and Bucky are giving him identical expressions of innocence and the fakest doe-eyes he’s ever seen. He stares at them blank-faced for several moments, then makes a disapproving noise. “Picking pockets? James Buchanan, I thought you knew better.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Steven Grant.” Bucky sasses right back, winking at Kate as he swans out of his seat. His black jeans make his legs look like they go on for days, clearly a pick by Maria for his closet. The v-neck henley shirt he’s wearing is ash colored, clinging to his muscles, obviously pricey.

“Ready to go, Varvatos?” Steve muttered, rolling his eyes as he reached for Bucky’s leather jacket and threw it at his head.

“Did you recognize it, or did you just pick the first expensive name you could think of?” Bucky winked, snatching the leather out of the air and whipping it around him, sliding his arms into the sleeves. He grins at Steve and purposefully pops the collar for a moment.

“There is no right way to answer that.” Steve replies, rolling his eyes. “Fix your hair and you’ll look like some heartthrob greaser out of every girls’ dreams.”

"What about your dreams, Stevie-kins?” Bucky teases, leaning over to the mirror and flicking a few strands back into place. “I could take you for milkshakes if you want.”

“My dreams include you not patting me down for random pieces of paper given to me by your management.” Steve muttered. “I’m not even surprised at this point, and I only wish I could be disappointed. I’ve literally hit resignation, Buck.”

“Aim high, Steve, aim high.” Bucky corrects his collar, shoots Kate a lazy salute, and paces across the room to the door. “Shouldn’t you have hit that about a decade ago?”

“Shut up and let’s go get lunch. My treat, even.” Steve grumbles. “A reward for the new heights you constantly reach.”

“Oh good. Will you let me get through my salad before you lecture me?” The model flutters his eyelashes as his best friend holds the door, ducking under Steve’s arm as he goes. “My bodyguard and hero, my gallant artist.”

“No, but if you just shut up and nod a lot I may run out of steam by the time the entre arrives?” Steve waves farewell to Kate and follows his friend into the hall. “You cut the flattery or I’ll add ten minutes for every weird compliment you give me.”

“Square deal. Let’s get out of here then, Cab Magnet. Katie-bell, behave yourself!” Buck calls as the door drifts closed.

From inside, Kate’s voice echoes with laughter. “I will if you will.”

Steve sighs, shaking his head. “You two deserve each other.”

 

*

Climbing into the cab after Steve and angling himself slightly away from the blond’s eye line, Bucky fiddles with his phone, pulling up Instagram. He navigates back to his own profile for a moment, squinting and chewing at the inside of his lip as he considered the updated information on the authenticated account.

James Barnes
[@ModelJamesB]
Model. Veteran. Brooklyn Boy. @MariaH for Booking

There’s nothing he really cares to add, so without hesitation he goes to pages he’s following and scrolls back through the MiniMechanic blog. When he finds the photos of their scarf parody he pauses, wanting to write, well… so much, really. In many ways, it was one of his toughest photoshoots. One of the first, the most on display, being so self-conscious about his scars. The arm was great, it was his skin that he’d hated, his body.

His therapist said that wasn’t uncommon, with models. Hoped that maybe the work would help him get through some of it, since most of it was from his time as a soldier. He’d hung up on her, gone back to the shoot shaking.

Clint had helped him get through it, Steve had helped… But he’d been a wreck. Had gone home, still shaking and climbed in the shower for forty-five minutes. He’d worn two layers for the next two weeks. Had barely been able to meet Steve’s eyes for the next two, had politely refused to go shirtless for a month. It had been a moment of bravery and then hours of regret and self-loathing, and he’d worked hard with his therapist to overcome it.

Somehow, this kid makes it seem better, makes Bucky wish he’d seen the photo ages ago. Peter’s expression is mischief and joy and his dad is obviously all in, at that moment. Clearly they don’t care about his scars, about the arm. Bucky has questions about the robot, of course he does, but there’s no way to tell a stranger on the internet half the things he’s feeling right now.

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel This is some serious style, Pete looks great! I wanna know the name of his buddy, though. Any chance I can get backup for my next gig?

He likes the whole stack, then the stand alone parody, and the Calvin Klein recreation shoot with the sneakers. Before he can scroll to the next, Steve is elbowing him.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doin’.” He mutters with a sly grin. “Just cuz I can’t see the screen don’t mean I’m clueless. Come on, we’re here and you’re gonna put that down and talk to me or I’m gonna take it away.”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” Bucky grins as he pockets the phone and climbs out of the cab gracefully.

“You’re funny. Really. Hysterical.” Steve’s grumbling in a bitter tone as he follows. “We’ve got reservations under your name, so I guess being stuck with you ain’t all bad.”

“Lucky for you, I’m handsome and successful, too! Aren’t you thrilled to be my lunch date?”

“Say that loud enough for a paparazzo to here and I’m kickin’ your ass on Main Street in front of God and Everyone. You hear me? Maria can bill me if I bruise your face.”

“She would, too. Kate can only do so much.”

“Yeah, I know… She’s already got her hands full while trying to fix your face on a regular day.”

“Oh, you’re a damn riot, Stevie.”

Chapter Text

Steve has wound down enough by the time that entrées arrive that he can sit quietly and watch as Bucky cuts into the mango chicken he ordered. For his part, his best friend seems unfazed by all the lecturing –which is usual- and somewhat distant –not quite as common as it once was- but peaceful. Steve wrestles with it for another ten minutes before Bucky notices him staring.

“As pretty as I am, Stevie.” Buck muttered solemnly. “I ain’t prettier than that steak of yours. If you don’t cut into it and go to town, I’m gonna help ya.”

“Touch my food and I stab you.” Steve playfully grits out, holding up a fork to fend off the tentative stab Bucky makes for his plate. “I mean it, Barnes, I will end you over lunch. I’ll call and confess my sin to Maria, I’ll paint an entire wall in that ultra-sleek modern tragedy she calls an apartment. Whatever price she demands, I’ll pay it, if it means you leave my lunch alone.”

“The next time you upset me, I’m gonna tell Maria you called her apartment an ‘ultra-sleek modern tragedy’.” Bucky smirks. “I bet she lectures you for at least fifteen minutes on the perks of modern, sleek aesthetics and I’m half-way to Brooklyn before she realizes what I done.”

Steve smiles, shaking his head fondly. “Man, I don’t know what to say but I guess that blogger is good for you.”

Bucky, predictably, freezes in place. Fork half way between mouth and plate, chicken and rice precariously balanced, he stares at Steve gape-mouthed and wide-eyed. “Huh?”

“Oh please, don’t try and kid me pal. I’ve known you too damn long.” Steve rolls his eyes and goes to work cutting up his steak, smirking down at his plate as he waits for his friend to recover. “This thing of yours, it’s cute.”

Bucky sputters, setting down his fork. “Thing?

“Ya know, this little crush of yours.”

“Steven Grant Rogers you take that back right now!” Bucky hunches over the table, his tone gone low and hissing. “I do not have a crush on some blogger on the internet!”

“Naw, you just wanna marry him and play Daddy to his cute kid.” Steve rolls his eyes, leaning back in his chair lazily. “Please Buck, don’t try and kid yourself, or me. We both know it’s a waste of time. You were gone on the kid as soon as I showed you the page.”

Bucky sputters for a handful of moments, thinks about all the comments he’s been sending the poster for the MiniMechanic blog, and then thinks about promising Kate the rights to do his makeup on their wedding day. If Steve finds out about that gem, he’s dead. He’ll never hear the end of it.

“So I think the kid is cute. So what? You think the kid was cute, Stevie, or you never would have showed me the page.” Bucky defends, rescuing his fork and eating his mouthful with a defiant glare at his best friend. He chews and swallows, glaring at Steve as the blond just laughs. “Kate thinks the kid is cute, Steve. I think at this point it’s safe to say that it’s fact.”

“That you have a crush? I agree.” Steve replies smugly, just to watch Bucky twitch. “If I’m not your best man, my revenge will be long and drawn out.”

“You keep this up? I’m making Clint the best man, and Lucky the ring bearer, just so you can sit in the third row and suffer.” Bucky threatens, only half joking.

“It’s so cute that you’re planning out the wedding. You don’t even know his name yet, Buck.”

“Oh my god, Punk, I’m gonna stab you I swear. I was being sarcastic which you should very well know, you jackass, considering it’s practically your second language.”

“What’s my first?” Steve asks, bewilderment rolling through him for a moment.

Bucky squints at his best friend, then shrugs. “Fist fighting or bad English, I ain’t decided yet.”

“… That’s fair.”

“Yer damn right it is.”

*

Chapter Text

Tony Stark stirs slightly, waking as a shiver of something skitters up his spine. There’s a faint ringing in his right ear, and he rubs his face into the pillow thinking of the old adage someone is talking about you. Well, people were usually gabbing about Tony Stark, but did they have to do it so loud it woke him up at…

“J?” Tony grumbled, face still buried in his pillows. “Time iz’t?”

“It’s nine o’clock in the morning, Sir.” JARVIS replied smoothly. “You were up until three regarding issues with Japan and Shanghai, which I am sad to report are not yet resolved. Mostly sunny today in Malibu; aside from your two afternoon conferences your day is relatively free. I believe you promised to take young Peter to the beach, and then to work on some new upgrades for the interface of the synthetic limb project. Miss Potts was most excited by the ideas you provided during your last meeting and you expected that your new simulations would be complete around nap time today?”

As the AI spoke, the windows in the master suite began slowly brightening, panels from left to right switching from the blackout mode to the daylight view. The solid projection fell away and the room was filled with natural light as the blank wall image dissolved into broad views of the rich blue Pacific Ocean and the white caps of the surf. Grumbling in annoyance, Tony ignores the light and the view, ears sharpening at the sound of an approach.

There’s a creak and whisper of the door, followed by padding footsteps across the tile floor. Still, the billionaire remains motionless, waiting, and suddenly there’s a low, rumbling laugh coming from the direction of the doorway. He feigns sleep, eyes closed and breathing steady as he waits. After a moment of hesitation and a soft whispered “shush!”, the movement resumes.

The sound of soft, shuffling steps draws closer as he stays belly down, pressed against the silk texture of his luxurious sheets, face hidden against the intersection of two plump pillows. The footsteps stop and suddenly there’s a deposit of something weighty at the far corner of the bed, a brief hesitation and then the navy and silver comforter bunches and slides as if grasped and yanked by little hands. Tony would bet a billion dollars that Rhodey just settled his son on the mattress and is now waiting to see what happens next.

“Papa.” Peter murmurs, tugging at the blankets in an effort to win a response. When Tony doesn’t move there’s more tugging, the sheet and comforter sliding down to his waist. “Papa!”

Tony gives a faint shiver in the cool air, mourning the loss of his blankets that leaves his bare back on display as he waits. Giving up on tugging, Peter begins wriggling across the expansive mattress until he can pat at his father’s leg. “Papa, up!”

For his part, Tony plays dead, still sprawled on his belly with his face half-buried in a pillow. He’s fighting a smile with all he’s got, listening to the soft babble and shuffle as his son draws closer. At the approach he tries to remain unmoving, fighting down the urge to laugh. His best friend is no help at all, as Rhodey is laughing from across the room, a muffled sound of amusement which probably means that he’s filming just so he can send the video to Pepper. Tony loves his best friend, but depositing the needy two year old on his bed just to watch the fallout means Tony is drinking the first two pots of his coffee by himself and Rhodey can just watch and suffer.

“Papa?” Peter pauses at Tony’s ribs, sniffling slightly. There’s a slight warble to the tone that makes some alarm in Tony’s head shriek. Whatever it is, he didn’t have it before he became a father, but it’s sure as hell active now. “Papa?”

At that Tony pounces, roaring theatrically as he catches Peter with one arm, swoops the shrieking boy to his chest, and pretends to gnaw on Peter’s ear and cheek as he falls theatrically back onto the mattress. Peter shriek-giggles as they fall, carefully curled beneath Tony’s chest and patting gently at his father’s jaw as Tony continues to snarl and snap at him. Rhodey's apparently taken it on himself to dress the kid already, since he's wearing green shorts and a custom made t-shirt that says My Uncle Is a Hero. Every once in awhile Tony noticed Peter wearing it made Rhodey tear up, the big marshmallow.

“No eat, Papa! No eat!” Peter giggled.

“Little boys that wake their daddy this early in the morning get eaten.” Tony argues, rubbing his face in the boy’s curly hair. “Even if their Uncle Rhodey told them to.”

“Pepper’s orders.” Rhodey grins from somewhere behind Tony, putting his phone into his pocket and shuffling across the marble floor. “Rise and shine, Tones. There’s coffee brewing in the kitchen, and Peter-Piper and I made breakfast with fruit.”

“Pancakes.” Peter mumbles as he snuggles under Tony’s jaw and closes his eyes on a yawn. “Papa….”

“You make me breakfast, Baby Boy?” Tony mumbles, drowsy as he pressed lips to his son’s curls and let his eyes drift closed. “Best kid ever.”

“For you.” Peter agrees in a mumble, yawning as he settles closer to his father’s warmth. One tiny hand reaches out and splays against the blue of the arc reactor, tapping gently at the glass. “Best light.”

“You’re my best light.” Tony corrects, going lax for a moment and just about drowsing off again, until he hears the sound of a camera shutter. He goes tense all over again, growling. “James Rhodes.”

Rhodey snaps another picture and then grabs Tony’s ankle through the blanket, dragging his friend kicking and flailing toward the foot of the bed. Wrapped in Tony’s arms, Peter is towed along also, whining in protest. “Up, up, up! Billionaire, Tech-Genius, Philanthropists don’t get to sleep all day! There are exciting video-conference meetings with Shanghai and calls to be made to Japan!”

“Rhoooooooooodeyyyyyyyy!” The Stark boys whine in unison, and the soldier just laughs and laughs.

In a moment Peter gives up too, dissolving into giggles. He’s such a happy baby, Tony’s heart soars at the sound. Still, nine in the morning? Ugh.

“You’re rude, Gumdrop.” Tony mumbles. “Rude, and no longer my favorite.”

“Breakfast.” Rhodey reminds them, abandoning his grip on Tony’s ankle and jabbing his friend in the ribs. “Give me the Starkling.”

“Mine.” Tony mumbled, giving Rhodey a narrow-eyed look and then pretending to gnaw on Peter’s cheeks until the boy shrieked again. “How about it, Baby Boy? Breakfast?”

“Pancakes.” Peter murmured stoutly, nodding firmly. “We go.”

“You heard Lord Stark.” Tony muttered at Rhodey, throwing his feet out of bed and standing on the chilled marble floor. He hauled Peter out of the bed with him, tossing the boy into the air and catching him just for the joyous shout it earned him. “To breakfast we go!”

Peter screeches with happiness, clapping and patting at Tony’s jaw once he’s caught. “Papa! Up again?”

“In love with flying? That’s the Stark in you.” Tony laughs, tossing and catching his boy again, then a third time for the sheer joy in Peter’s giggles. “Straight to the stars, Baby Boy.”

*

Chapter Text

Standing near the foot of the king sized bed, James Rhodes watches as grinning Tony Stark as he throws and catches a happily screeching baby boy. Peter’s almost three and growing like a weed, but the changes he’s wrought in his father since arriving in Tony’s life are even more noticeable to Rhodes’s critical eye. The fact that his best friend is alive and breathing at all remains a constant miracle to him, considering how wrong things have gone in Tony’s past.

Evidence of that shines out of Tony’s sternum, a bright glowing light surrounded by a disk of metal. The light itself, the arc reactor, is nearly the width of Rhodey’s palm. Powering an electromagnet that is keeping shrapnel from entering his heart, and made by Tony’s own hands while in captivity in the desert, the brilliant, reassuring glow is a constant visual reminder of just how wrong things had gone during Tony’s last business trip abroad. It’s a cool blue that’s reassuring while being inescapably saddening.

Most days neither Tony nor Rhodey want to think about how Afghanistan nearly killed them both, in different ways… How one trip nearly wiped them both off the map, but that doesn’t make it less true. That trip had nearly killed them both. One trip had nearly made it so Tony didn’t come home, didn’t shatter the Stark Industries reputation for war mongering, didn’t pick up the shards of business and build something better. But Tony had come back from a weapons demonstration gone wrong, an arranged kidnapping that should have been murder, an enforced captivity in the desert that should have ended in a psychotic break… bearing fragments of a bomb in his chest that should have resulted in his death.

Should. Should. Should. James Rhodes didn’t give a damn about that word anymore, not where his best friend was concerned. Where Tony Stark stood, should didn’t exist. There was only Tony’s limitless will, unfailing imagination, and unending courage. Rules and logic and law and possibility could just step right off, when Tony Stark stepped up, all the rules changed.

And stars above but Rhodes was so damn proud of his best friend, because in the wake of betrayal and torture and mutilation and attempted murder, Tony Stark came back bigger. In the face of greed and deceit, Tony came back stronger. When faced with a motherless child that he had no knowledge of, Tony came back softer.

Tony may have saved himself in that cave, but that little boy made sure he continued to save himself every damn day, Rhodes was sure of it. And damn, but he was glad of it, too. When Tony had gone missing he’d hunted like a man possessed, eventually resigning his commission when the military wouldn’t let him continue to search for his best friend. Not that it had mattered what the military wanted. Rhodey had access to Tony’s nearly endless resources, Pepper on his side, and a direct line to JARVIS, Tony’s relentless AI.

When Tony had finally been found it had been Rhodey who brought him back, refusing to let Tony out of arm’s reach for more than a year. He’d been at Tony’s side when a former fling had come forward, admitting to Peter’s existence and giving up the baby after revealing she had no interest in being a parent. While none of them had expected the infant or Tony’s desire to raise him, Rhodey wasn’t surprised at how quick the Stark boys bonded.

Tony was all-in with his emotions, he always had been. He drunk-built a robot as a teenager and routinely hauled it from one end of the country so it was never far away. He invented AI, giving life to a being that learned and grew and loved… a being that had so feared for his creator that it had spent the three months of Tony’s disappearance running down every possible lead, hacking satellites, chasing down money transfers. JARVIS had been determined to bring home his creator, and now that Tony was back the AI did everything in his power to keep his favorite human safe. And then Peter had come along.

JARVIS had two favorite humans, Rhodey had two Stark boys to watch, Pepper had twice as many reasons to worry about heart attacks and gray hair. None of them would change a thing.

In spite of what the media or anyone else may have thought, that kid was the best thing to happen to Tony in a long time. Rhodey watches fondly as Peter gets caught for a final time, pulled close to Tony’s chest and covered in fluttering, smacking kisses. The little boy giggles and screeches, his small hands fluttered gently over the scar tissue knotting over his father’s chest, tiny fingers tapping gently at the metal ring of the arc reactor as his palms come to rest against the bright core of light.

“Alright Starks 1 and 2!” Rhodey barks, trying and failing to hide his grin. “There’s pancakes and fresh fruit waiting!”

“Coffee?” Tony looks at him, hopeful and dark eyed, lips still pressed against Peter’s brow.

“Juice.” Rhodey replies blandly, arching a brow to dare him to argue. “Though you may want to put a shirt on, and possibly do something about that sexy bedhead you’ve got going on? Then, juice and breakfast. If you finish your pancakes, however...”

“If?” Tony whines, jostling Peter. “Do you hear this, Lemondrop? Sour Patch over there is denying your Papa his coffee. He’s a mean, grumpy RhodeyBear!”

“Want juice.” Peter murmurs, snuggling under Tony’s jaw and drawing shapes over the arc reactor. “Pancakes, Papa, and juice.”

“Your wish is my command, Prince Stark.” Tony murmurs solemnly. “Go with the Royal Rhodester to the dining hall, I’ll be along in a minute.”

“Go with you?” Peter looks up at his father, big brown eyes put to use in the best display of ‘Bambi eyes’ that Rhodes has ever seen.

Rhodey nearly caves, and Peter isn’t even asking him for anything. This kid could get away with murder. Could arrange murder, if he wanted. Maybe it’s a good thing he isn’t in school yet, one kid looks at him wrong and both Tony and Rhodey will be beating the door down to straighten them out.

It’s no wonder that Tony wavers. “I need to get dressed, Baby Bear.”

“I’ll hold him, put a dang shirt on.” Rhodey murmurs, holding his hands out. When Tony is slow to surrender the kid he makes grabby hands, intoning in his most serious voice. “The Starkling, now.”

“Fine, fine, fine.” Tony grumbles, bussing a kiss on each of Peter’s cheeks before handing him over. “Take this priceless treasure, the only heir to my kingdom, and guard it with your life, Sir Rhodes.”

“Else dramatic bot vengeance fall upon me.” Rhodey murmured solemnly, hugging Peter to his chest and tickling the boy until he giggles. “And a great ginger dragon tumble from the sky to lay waste to my stock portfolio. Yes, my King, I understand.”

With a last look at his son Tony disappears into the walk-in closet with a bark of laughter, returning a moment later wearing a worn Stark Industries tee. The glow of the arc reactor barely shows through it, a faint hint of light blue behind the pale turquoise logo. “Sir Rhodes, the scandal! I’m telling Pepper you called her a dragon.”

“It’s your narrative, Tones, I was just taking a page from it. We know she’d believe me, anyhow.” Rhodey grinned, tucking Peter to his chest and spinning. “Quick, young Prince! To the Kingdom of snacks!”

“Betrayal! In my own kingdom!” Tony shrieked as Rhodey bolted out the door, listening to the echo of Peter’s laughter as they disappeared down the hall. “What else is news, J?”

“All of the heads of departments for Shanghai have replied in the affirmative to your seven-forty five video conference.” JARVIS replied dutifully. “They apologize for not having things together for you yesterday, and assure it will not happen again. A suit has been delivered, per Ms. Potts instructions, and is awaiting you in the office. The teleconference with Japan is slated to take place around four this afternoon, currently three-quarters of the management has confirmed. Ms. Potts promised to get the other quarter on board or to reschedule to next week. If they have not responded to her satisfaction by then, she’ll be flying out to inspire them in person, which would require you to revisit New York next month.”

“Less than ideal, but doable.” Tony murmured, meandering down the hallway toward the elevator. “What other news have you got for me?”

“There’s been some recent response to the blog, Sir.”

“Blog? What did we last post on @IAmIron?”

“Not that one, sir. The @MiniMechanicVsModel has recently received some responses.”

“Genuine, overly concerned, or otherwise?” Tony sighed. “I swear, J, if one more soccer mom tries to tell me I’m exploiting my son and I should be ashamed of myself, I’m going to lose it.”

“Nothing like that, Sir.” JARVIS soothed, sounding fond and faintly amused. “It’s actually the model.”

“The… model?” Tony turns, blinking at JARVIS's nearest camera in a way that telegraphs his puzzlement.

“Yes, James Barnes? He’s apparently taken to replying to your comments and parody photos.”

“He’s…. what?”

*

Chapter Text

As though uninterrupted, JARVIS continues on with his morning update, though there’s an air of amusement in his tone. “Also, Mr. Wayne has made a few comments and sent you an email requesting a playdate in New York, perhaps next month? He states that the last one was an immeasurable success that should oft be repeated. Shall I respond in the affirmative, sir? I can even mention that you may find yourself in New York next week, should that work out for a visit as well.”

“JARVIS, not now. I’m… Just… Put them up on the window, won’t you?”

Deliberately misunderstanding, JARVIS hesitated. “The comments from Mr. Wayne, sir?”

“Don’t you sass me, young man.”

“Of course, Sir. What was I thinking? I’m sure Mr. Wayne can wait until after breakfast. He’s certain to be understanding when I advise that your need to swoon over your-”

“JARVIS Stark, for the love of your circuits you should not finish that sentence.”

“Of course sir. The likes and comments from your beau, as you requested.” The AI murmured, amusement still filling each word.

Tony drifted closer to the wall of glass in interest as two of the floor to ceiling window panels abruptly changed to reflect a list of recent likes and comments. Rather than the official Instagram feed, JARVIS automatically translated it to his and Tony’s preferred settings. Miniature versions of each image –the size of Tony’s palm- that James had liked appeared in an orderly column, along with a digital heart and the account name.

As he watched, the photos shrank and each animated fluttering heart expanded dramatically. They practically filled the first panel with pink digital sparkles.

“You’re hysterical, really.” Tony muttered, deadpan as he crossed his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes at the list of fluttering hearts from ModelJamesB. “You and DUM-E, package deal to the city college. But I think a New York one, because hood kids would be good for you. The surfers here would just not be enough of a life lesson, I don’t think.”

“I am certain you know best, sir.”

“Can we lose the fluttering hearts, please?” Tony muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose and swipes one hand to banish the animations covering the first window of data. “What did he have to say?”

“I merely endeavored to capture your mood accurately... Shall I read them to you, sir? I am certain I can generate a suitably doting tone.” JARVIS murmured. “It may take an attempt or two, of course, but I do endeavor to serve as best I can regardless of the scenario.”

“Maybe a New Jersey school.” Tony threatened through his teeth. “Just, mute, okay? Think about what you did.”

“Very well, Sir.”

Left alone with the windows of comments, Tony lingered a few steps back from the wall of glass, rocking from heel to heel and chewing nervously at the inside of his lip. With a sigh he rubbed both hands over his face, scuffing one through his hair before he stepped forward to read. “Alright, Stark, get it together.”

He glanced at the series of hearts first, picking out images here and there. The Armani scarf, the stack of outtakes from the same day, some photos of Peter in front of the Malibu house with the Saleen, the Calvin Klein photos with the hoodie. Those were fun, acceptable.

The “like” for the guitar series made him hesitate, remembering the video of him playing piano and singing that Pepper had added. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but she had threatened him to ensure it was not removed.

Another like on the stack of Peter’s photos from the New York stairwell. Tony had been appropriately dressed down, matching his son’s outfits whenever he could and playing up the angle of being a normal dad. Usually the press could overlook him he if played his cards right, though sprawled on the stairs with his laughing boy he hadn’t really given them a second thought. That had been a great day, Pepper had one of the photos framed and snuck it into his office. He’d left it, because he was touched by the gesture and even at the office, a photo of his son could make him smile.

In spite of the request for him to mute, JARVIS made a noise like he was clearing his throat or speaker. “Sir? Your son and best friend are still awaiting you at breakfast. Pancakes will only keep Mr. Rhodes busy for so long, he is requesting I warn you of this.”

“Tell him I’ll be a minute, a few messages I need to check.”

“I will advise him, sir.”

“I can hear you laughing at me, JARVIS. You’re grounded.”

"Of course, Sir. I shall use this time to reflect upon my misdeeds."

"If Peter grows up with this level of attitude, I am blaming you."

"As is only just, Sir.. But I will point out, we learned it from you."

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel Man, you Malibu Boys sure do make this look good! I like a little competition though, keep up the great work!

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel This is some serious style, Pete looks great! I wanna know the name of his buddy, though. Any chance I can get backup for my next gig?

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel I can see where Peter gets his amazing talent. This is some beautiful piano work, hoping that I’ll get to hear more of it, MusicMan.

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel You guys look great, I think you even found the exact same set of steps! This Pepper gal has some pretty good taste in pictures. Certainly is a thrill when she manages to get a picture of “T” on here. Keep up the great work, you two!

“Oh, my gosh…”

*

Chapter Text

"Sir, breakfast is waiting..."

Jogged out of his daze, the billionaire gives himself a shake. "Right... Right."

He can't deal with this right now.

Tony waves a hand to blank the windows and slinks downstairs, brain buzzing with the slew of new likes and comments from the model his son was seemingly inexplicably drawn to. He can’t tell Peter about it yet, needs to figure out a way to say it in the right way… But in order to do that, he needs to figure out how he feels about it, so he can be sure to project the right tone to his son.

It’s no damn wonder JARVIS is smug about it, Tony knows he’s acting like an idiot. He hasn’t batted an eyelash about a celebrity since he was eight, and now suddenly he’s pacing and brooding because a model noticed his son’s parody photos and actually took the time to respond. JARVIS is smug down to his circuits, and Tony is stress-pacing and chewing his nails. This Dad thing is not for the faint of heart.

Ok but, it was Peter. Peter was Tony’s world. He’s allowed to be protective and worry (a little) when suddenly someone sits up and takes notice of his kid. Though they really should notice, because Peter is adorable. Peter is the best, and the world should accept that. But at the moment, Tony’s not worried about the world… Tony’s worried about James Barnes.

Because Peter loves James. Had seen the scarf campaign in a magazine on a trip through the Stark Industries Malibu lobby, and positively shrieked. His sitter at the time had been utterly baffled when he’d immediately burst into tears, and Tony had been forced to abandon a meeting and rescue his son to spare the woman. Immediately appeased by being held by his father, Peter had stopped crying and recovered his words.

“Want book!” He’d told Tony, making grabby hands at the distant desk. Using his son like some strange echolocation device, Tony had walked Peter across the room until they’d found the right magazine, still carelessly tossed on a table top, and the boy had made a whistling sound of approval.

Pepper had laughed, thinking Tony and Peter spent way too much time around the ‘bots if he was learning to whistle like they did. Tony had wanted to know what the heck was so special about a magazine, until he noticed the young man posed on the page. The photographer had posed him against a plain charcoal backdrop, clothed in dark indigo jeans that were low slung on sculpted hips, and with a thick, woven scarf looped around neck and shoulders. James Barnes was sculpted and tan, a hint of scarring showing at his left shoulder and pectoral, where the glinting silver-metal arm anchored to his body.

A Stark Industries made arm, for Tony’s sins.

To an extent, Tony knew at least part of the reason Peter was so fond of James Barnes. For all that the model didn’t know it, the Stark prosthetic limbs project had been one of Tony’s own personal ideas. He’d spent months developing hand articulation, a full arm, and a full leg prosthetic. Though made of metal they were wired with sensors and including an option for implants or adhered control ports, allowing for automatic movement as well as sensation for temperature and pressure. Stark Industries issued a trial program with twelve volunteers, all former soldiers and several recovered POWs. James Barnes had been one such soldier.

Though Tony himself did not perform the surgery or directly administer the monthly tech appointments to the twelve participants, he had pioneered the tech, worked with a bioengineer to streamline and troubleshoot his implant technology, and suggested that they offer the trial limbs free of charge to former military. He’d spent months on the project, it was no surprise Peter recognizes it.

That was his daddy’s work, and now it was attached to a human. Naturally the human had to be pretty great. On paper, Tony knew James was great. He looked great, sure, but it was more than that. Tony personally reviewed notes in James’s file and lived for feedback about the arm, because damn did James actually give good notes. One of these days Tony would probably stage a raid during one of his appointments, just for the chance to talk to him in person.

Of course, in person is a crisis for another day. Today Tony is dealing with a slew of likes and reply comments from James Barnes, several of which are focused on pictures that include Tony.

It’s a lot to deal with on an empty stomach, so Tony shoves it all aside, dredges up a smile, and goes downstairs for pancakes with his son.

James Barnes can wait, a little bit.

*

Chapter Text

The sound of cheerful toddler babble and the measured, understanding replies of a doting Uncle echo in the still house as Tony meanders downstairs. He travels through the living room, pausing to stroke a hand over the piano. Memory of singing to Peter during the photoshoot, and the video Pepper posted, returns. Tony feels his face heat and scrubs a hand through his hair. Keep it together, Stark.

“Are you blushing, Sir?” JARVIS murmurs, sounding amused.

“Shut up, you.” Tony grumbles, fond and playfully exasperated. “I’ll deal with your sass later.”

“I have your schedule noted for reprogramming before lunch” JARVIS retorted. “But you will be late for your breakfast engagement.”

“I’m going, I’m going.” Tony growls in a mock sulk, winking at one of JARVIS’s sensors as he passes.

Tony hesitates in the doorway to the kitchen, smiling as he watches Rhodey flip a pancake through the air and catch it on a plate in his other hand. He turns to face the toddler at the bar and bows when Peter claps, turning back to the stove and repeating the trick with another perfectly golden cake.

“Again Uncle Rhodey, again!” Peter cheers, gleeful as the stack on Rhodey’s held aloft plate grows.

“Come sit, Tones.” Rhodey offers with a faint smile. “There’s room for another Stark at the breakfast bar, and your pancakes will be done in just a minute.”

“Thanks Golden Graham, I’d be lost without you.” Tony purrs, meandering past the often ignored dining table and scattering kisses over his son’s hair as he climbs onto a bar chair beside him.

Peter is comfortably ensconced in his high-high chair, preferring to be level with them at the kitchen counter rather than sitting at the table. There are two carefully cut up pancakes covered in peanut butter and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar on the plate before him. Tony eyeballs the sugar and sighs, giving Rhodey a mournful look when his plateful of pancakes is delivered.

“Do you hate me, Gumdrop?” The billionaire mumbles, looking at the sugar one more time before facing his plate of golden pancakes and the bowl of fresh fruit his friend has set before him.

“I’m the one who gets to watch the two of you, if anything I hate myself.” Rhodey grins, sliding fresh orange juice within Tony’s reach and then turning back to finish dishing up the last of the cakes on the griddle for himself.

There’s a stack of them cooling off to one side, but Tony’s pretty sure these are just in case anyone wants seconds. Rhodey appears to have made a triple batch to feed them, serving up the freshest ones and sliding over syrup before he takes his seat at Tony’s other side.

“How’s breakfast, Peter Cottontail?” Tony murmurs, laughing when his son grins up at him with a peanut butter smeared face. “That good, huh?”

“Best breakfast!”

“Yeah, Rhodey’s the best at a lot of things.”

“Flattery will do you no good, Stark. Pancakes, emails, and a whole day of fun await you.”

“I’d almost believe you, if I couldn’t see you texting Pepper.”

“I ain’t hidin’ it, Tones.”

"A betrayal of the highest order."

"Quit whining and eat."

*

Rhodey knows his best friend better than anyone on the planet. Met him when he was an affection-starved teen tearing through MIT’s rooms and racking up degrees like there was a time limit. After sharing a room with Tony at College, he’s got more dirt than he cares to remember, most days. He knows every tell, every stall, every misdirection. So he can see, plain as day, how Tony’s eyes dart to his phone, then back to his plate or over to his son. The same circuit, occasionally interspersed with Tony checking the time. Peter’s oblivious to it all, face smeared with peanut butter. Tony’s eyes soften when they rest on his son, but there’s something weighing on him. Maybe he’s waiting for Pepper to call because Rhodey keeps texting her, but he won’t ask.

Which is a good thing, because Rhodey had texted her for the password on the MiniMechanicVsModel blog, so that he could post some of the pictures and the video clip he’d taken this morning. Even if Tony was shirtless, the video and pictures were fairly harmless. For most of the video he’d been covered with a blanket, Peter crawling up the expanse of the bed and patting at him sweetly. Even the photos had Peter pressed against the reactor, hiding it from sight.

Pepper had cooed that they were adorable, then texted him the password so he could log in and post.

‘Make sure you include the warning tag, or he’ll take them down when he sees them later.’ She had cautioned.

‘I know, Pepper, I know. But if I don’t post them before he has JARVIS pull them from my phone, I never will.’

‘Well that’s certainly true.’

“Peter Pan, you are going to need a bath by the time breakfast is over.” Tony sighs, leaning over with a damp napkin to try and clean his kid’s face. “Have you even tasted it?”

“It’s good!” Peter shriek-giggles, evading the napkin. “No, cold!”

“Did you just dip your napkin in ice water to wash your kid’s face at the table?” Rhodey mutters, hitting post before locking his phone and putting it in his pocket. “Oh my god, you’re a soccer mom. Where’s the van? This is the best day of my life.”

“I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.”

Tony sighs, slumping back over his pancakes and leaving his flailing offspring alone. “No… I don’t.”

“Good. I’ll clean up the Prince while you go answer emails.” Rhodey beamed, releasing Peter from the high chair and scooping him up. “Tell Bruce Wayne he’s a jerk and needs to bring Gray and the boys over here again. I want to teach the oldest how to drive.”

“Rhodey, Bruce is not going to let Richard drive… he’s six.”

“So we’ll start with video games. He’s bound to be a greater challenge than you.” Rhodey calls over one shoulder, walking out of the room. “Do some work, you bum!”

“I’m hurt, Gumdrop… Your words wound me.” Tony calls, dreading the fact that JARVIS is going to bring up comments from both Bruce and James, and he’s going to have to deal with them.

“So cry about them to the internet!”

Tony blinks, glaring at his pancakes before the words sink in. When they do he bolts upright, making the bar-chair wobble dangerously. Grabbing for the countertop in a panic, Tony looked up at the ceiling. “JARVIS?”

“Sir?”

“What did Rhodey do?”

“Well, sir…”

*

Chapter Text

Surviving the remainder of their meal with minimal teasing, Bucky manages to successfully distract Steve with a Blondie à la Mode. It’s easy enough to keep Steve chattering until dessert arrives, at which point he happily digs in. Best friend successfully distracted, Bucky digs his phone out of his pocket, checking Instagram first and foremost. There’s a little voice in the back of his head that’s already snarking, but it sounds like Steve so he ignores it.

Besides, there’s no need to check texts since he’s finished work for the day and Steve is across from him. That means the most important reasons or people who would care to text him are fully covered. So yes, in spite of what his best friend will say when he gets caught, he’s going to check and see if there are any new posts, or continue to catch up on the Mini Mechanic blog. Steve really shouldn’t pick on him though, it’s research in a way, and besides his number one fan has been recreating his work for a few months now. Bucky should do the right thing and comment on that kind of dedication!

Disappointingly there are no replies to his comments yet, but as he goes through and likes the photos of Peter in the field he sees a notice at the top of the screen that there’s been a new post.

Intrigued, he leaves off commenting for now, clicks the notification, and freezes at the sight of a video. Steve, the jackass, goes still with a mouthful of blondie and ice cream, his eyes narrowed. Chewing rapidly and swallowing, he reaches out with his spoon and smacks the plate with Bucky’s slice of triple berry pie.

“You’re looking at him again, aren’t you?” Steve mutters, stabbing a bite of blondie into smaller pieces before he rescues it from his ice cream. “I can see how you go all doe-eyed, it’s ridiculous.”

Rather than argue, Bucky nods. “There’s a new video.”

“So watch it, you clearly have no self-restraint or cool to speak of.”

“Thanks Stevie.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” Steve shrugs. “You don’t eat your pie before I finish my blondie, it’s mine.”

“I've already worked the run to make up for that into my schedule. Don’t touch my dessert.” Bucky grows, clicking the video and glancing around him before turning the sound on. They’re sitting on the patio and the tables nearest to them are clear, so he turns it up just loud enough to hear it over the click of Steve’s silverware and pushes play. The video begins with a slowly opening door, the phone tilting to show Peter is up high enough that he’s likely being carried by an adult.

‘Alright, Pete.’ A deep voice murmurs on the video. ‘Ready?’

For a moment the boy looks solemn, nodding, his curly brown hair in disarray. Then the moment is lost as Peter giggles, clapping his hands and making Bucky’s heart flip in his chest. This kid is too cute.

‘Shush!’ The adult laughs softly, and then the camera and the toddler are moving through an expansive master suite. There’s enough ambient lighting that Bucky can tell the tile floors are the honey-cream color of previous images, though the sitting area they pass by is little more than a blur. They arrive at a door a moment later and it’s nudged open, showing a massive king-sized bed sprawled elegantly against a far wall.

To the right of the room there’s a wall of nothing but windows, looking out over deep blue ocean with perfect white caps on the swells. The bed is clad in navy and silver, the comforter marked with thinner stripes near the head and foot but larger diamonds pattern the middle. Sprawled beneath one of the grey diamonds is a sleeping man, dark brown hair an adorable bird’s nest even from the back. Shoulders and neck are visible above the blanket, tan and well-muscled.

Bucky maybe almost swallows his tongue, admiring the sleeping man –the older Mechanic, he’s fairly sure- as Peter is gently deposited on the bed but well away from the edges. The boy looks at the camera and receives an encouraging wave from the dark hand that released him. Nodding in adorable determination, Peter turns and begins crawling up the bed, his tiny fists yanking the blankets down his father’s back an inch at a time.

Bucky bounces between wanting to coo at this kid, and staring as more and more muscles are brought into view. Even prone against a luxurious mattress, the definition of the man’s back is visible, smooth-skinned and beckoning. Clearly the Mechanic does a lot of work with his arms, but his back is a work of art that gives way to a pretty little waist. Bucky admits his throat is a little dry as he swallows, watching as all the while Peter continues to crawl up the bed, but beginning to murmur insistently.

“Papa. Papa! Papa, up!” He hesitates around hip height, patting at his father’s thigh through the blanket. The camera man is laughing softly, the phone bobbling now and again, but the Mechanic remains stubbornly sill and silent. Playing dead for all he’s worth, Bucky’s almost certain of it. Peter crawls some more, hesitating when even with his father’s ribs and giving a sniffle. “Papa? Papa?”

It promises to get to tears or a fit in short order, and Bucky feels a frisson of worry. If this kid starts crying he may well abandon Steve and flee for the nearest airport, sanity of the plan be damned. Wow, he’s so gone, so soon. Despair claws at his throat. His best friend is never gonna let him live this down.

The Mechanic suddenly comes to life, giving a low roar as he pounces up onto his knees, back to the camera. He swipes up his son and scoops him under his chest, flopping over onto his far side and making loud snarling noises as he pretends to chew on Peter’s cheeks. Peter pats playfully at his father’s face, shrieking and giggling, as the cameraman inches around the foot of the bed.

“No eat, Papa! No eat!”

“Little boys that wake their daddy this early in the morning get eaten.” The Mechanic argues, his low voice sounding so terribly fond that Bucky’s heart twists, watching as the man playfully rubs his face in the boy’s curly hair.

The video ends, and Bucky hits pause before it can reply. It’s too soon to watch it again, especially in front of Steve, when all he wants to do is admire the muscled back of a complete stranger. He scrolls a little, looking at the caption instead.

MiniMechanicVsModel [WarMachine] taking over today! Remember, when waking your mechanic it is always good strategy to bring a smaller mechanic as a sacrifice! Don’t worry, no adorable kids were eaten during the making of this video, we feed them well here. Featuring Peter, as always, and the elder Mechanic and MusicMan! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MusicMan #NotAMorningPerson #FatherNSonFashionIcons #TIfYouDeleteThisIWillKillYou

“You’re making a really gooey face right now.” Steve murmurs, as solemn as the grave, from across the table. “It’s horrendous. I wanna take a picture of it and send it to Maria as an argument as to why you should have to pose for the cover of one of those bodice-ripping fantasy books.”

“I hate everything about you, and will be auditioning a new best friend this afternoon.” Bucky snarks back, leaving a heart on the video and typing as quickly as he can.

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel Wake him up, #MalibuBaby! Some of us have already been to work and are on lunch. Don’t let a beautiful California day go by because you’re still in bed, Mechanic! It’d be a real waste. :wink:

He intends to close the app and pay attention to his best friend again, but ends up back on the main page of the @MiniMechanicVsModel account by mistake. Which is a great thing, because there’s a photo of father and son curled up in the bed, both of them apparently half-asleep again. The Mechanic has his face hidden against Peter’s curly head, but his long lashes and ruffled hair is visible, son tucked close to his chest.

MiniMechanicVsModel [WarMachine] The hazard of having two of a kind? Your younger Mechanic may be exactly like the older one, and try to defect by joining the other side and falling asleep. Featuring Peter, as always, and the elder Mechanic and MusicMan! #DesignerBaby #Fashion #Model #MusicMan #NotAMorningPerson #FatherNSonFashionIcons #TIfYouDeleteThisIWillKillYou

Bucky sighs, leaves a heart, and tries not to squeak quietly. They’re cute, ok? Cute enough to kill him.

Steve snorts, and reaches for the plate with Bucky’s triple berry pie. Locking the phone in a hurry, he stuffs it into his pocket and lunges, swatting his best friend upside the head before dragging his pie out of Steve’s reach. “Bad Captain.”

“Stop looking at sugar on the internet, and eat that before I eat it for you.” Steve grumbles, shaking his head. “Wait until I tell Clint and Thor what you’re like. I should invite everyone over and charge admission. Set up a webcam, ’Model reacts to adorable child’, a web series.”

“New best friend, man, I’m serious.” Bucky mumbles, cutting into his pie.

He’d be lying if he said his brain wasn’t thousands of miles away, focused on a big bed in Malibu.

*

Chapter Text

Tony makes it through his pancakes, juice and fruit in silence. He’s finishing up his water when Rhodey texts to say he’s taking Peter down to the playroom and turning the kid loose so Tony can answer his emails and memos in peace. With a grimace and the keen desire to avoid that for a little longer, Tony gets all the dishes rinsed and loaded into the washer, and has just poured himself a cup of coffee when his AI makes a pointed throat-clearing noise.

Despairingly, he lets his shoulders slump. “What now, J?”

“New comments, sir.” JARVIS says primly, though Tony can hear the amusement behind every word. “Would you like to sit down before you address them?”

“You know what? Yes, yes I would.” Tony grumbles, taking his cup of coffee and shuffling into the living area. He sets the cup down on an end table and throws himself onto the couch, curling over his knees and rubbing his hands over his face for several minutes. When he’s worked up the courage he sits up, raking his fingers through his hair and nodding decisively. “Alright, hit me.”

Digital projections of his recent list of likes appears to the left, comments appearing directly in front of him with a second window of them to the right. Tony takes a deep breath and holds it, staring at the lighted panels before he reaches up and grabs the most recent comment. As Tony pulls it forward the other sections automatically shrink and slide back, giving the selected projection prominence.

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel Wake him up, #MalibuBaby! Some of us have already been to work and are on lunch. Don’t let a beautiful California day go by because you’re still in bed, Mechanic! It’d be a real waste. :wink:

Tony reads it, rereads it, and then reads it a third time. He sips his coffee, sets it aside, and plants his chin in his hand. Flicking a finger at the left side, he pulls the recent likes and sighs when Jarvis automatically begins playing the video. Of course, of course Rhodey filmed that. Of course he did.

“J, dictate a text to Rhodey, won’t you?” Tony grumbles, reaching for his coffee. “Dear SourPatch, I really appreciate you putting video of me half-naked up on the internet. Somehow, I thought that ended in our twenties. You’re an awful person. Send.”

“Sent, sir.” JARVIS murmured blandly. “Your response to Mr. Barnes, sir?”

“Isn’t that the question?” Tony mumbled, scrubbing a hand over his face again. “Get it together, Stark.”

“Sir, I would just like to point out I’ve never seen you this way.” JARVIS’s tones are dripping with humor, earning him a glare from his creator. “It’s quite compelling.”

“I will install you in a browser and make you the next ‘Ask Jeeves’.” Tony grumbles, narrow-eyed and steely. “Inundated with stupid questions and then forgotten when the next shiny search engine arrives on scene.”

“With all due respect, Sir, Starks never go out of style.” JARVIS retorted coolly. “Now then, do you want assistance writing back to the Football Team Captain, or shall I just leave you to pine alone in your room?”

“You think you’re funny, I have no clue why.” Tony sighed, shaking his head. “Ok, leaving that last one alone right now. Give me these in order, so I can work out some decent replies.”

“When will you tell Young Sir?”

“I’ll tell Peter later, when I visit him and Rhodey. Right now, there isn’t exactly much to say, is there?”

“Aside from the fact that the model he greatly admires has seen some of his photos and thinks they’re wonderful?” JARVIS let the sentence hang for a moment, giving the affectation of a shrug.

“Nothing comes to mind. Do remember to respond to Mr. Wayne though, sir, you know how he gets.”

“Is this you way of telling me to stop panicking over a boy and do my job?”

“You said it, Sir, not I.”

“… You have spent entirely too much time with Aunt Pepper. Send her a memo that she’s a horrible influence.”

"I can only hope to have a modicum of her graceful efficiency.”

Tony turned his attention from the glowing words to gape at his ceiling for several moments. “Unbelievable.”

*

With the eventual help of his still-snarking AI, Tony goes back to the first comments, which start out at a more manageable level, and begins to reply. He has to admit he’s smiling nearly the whole time, because for the most part the comments are directed to Peter or at them both equally. They start out sweet and sway toward flirty, too, but that may just be his hopes talking.

(It isn’t.)

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB Great to hear from you! If you like competition we may give up the California sun to walk at Fashion Week. Make sure you stay on your toes!

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB Peter Pan does take his fashion choices very seriously, he wants to do things right! His bumbling assistant is DUM-E, and trust us if you want to keep the job you probably shouldn’t invite him along. He is available for small parties if you need a clown though! Or a recalcitrant hatrack. When can we drop him off?

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB The Mechanic here (just in case it was in doubt), thank you so much for watching and commenting on so many of our posts. It means a lot to Peter to hear from his idol, and I’m thrilled you liked the music. I don’t usually do concerts but such things are negotiable, for the right audience.

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB We might have actually, our location scout is tenacious. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with! As for “T”, he’s not nearly as photogenic as the Mini, but he’s like a bad penny…

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB No fair, teaming up with the Mini to work against me! Just so you know, I can't be expected to play piano well when sleep deprived... (you have been warned.) Besides, some of us were working late and need to sleep in the mornings. The California sun will be there when I catch up, don't worry, and it looks just fine from bed too... trust me. :wink:

“Sir, the scandal!” JARVIS murmured in his driest tone.

“Now purchasing ‘AskJarvis.com’.” Tony grumbled, and flicked one hand to send his last reply.

“Shall I send him roses, sir? A ‘do you like me too?’, card? Check yes or no.”

“Despite the look on my face, you continue to sass.”

“I am told it will help you build character.”

*

Chapter Text

Bucky is all too thrilled when Steve elects to drop him off at home and take the cab back to his apartment. Sure it’s a departure from Steve’s usual ‘jog everywhere’ attitude, especially considering the minimal distance between their buildings. Because Steve’s an overbearing mother hen, it’s only 3 blocks from Bucky’s apartment building to his. Still, Bucky can’t blame him for preferring not to walk or jog, since Steve’s still dressed from set. While the clothing is not excessively fancy –decently dressy slacks and a collared button down under his usual bomber jacket- it’s hardly jogging clothing.

Waving him off Bucky waits for the cab to turn the corner and then sprints for the door of his apartment building, bolting up the four flights of stairs to his studio apartment. He thankfully encounters no one on his trip and manages to get himself through his front door and lock it safely behind him in short order. Kicking off his shoes and peeling off his jacket, he rescues his phone from his pocket and thumbs across the screen to unlock it. Steve hasn’t called him, but there is a really smug text message waiting.

Stevie
Are you on Instagram yet? :kiss: :heart:

Bucky grinds his teeth, narrowing his eyes at the screen before typing his unlock code and keying in a response.

Buck
Shut up. You’re just jealous because you don’t have an adorable toddler pretending he’s Steve Rogers and getting covered in finger paint as he tries to emulate you.

The response buzzes through almost immediately, Steve was clearly waiting for a reply, and it makes Bucky roll his eyes.

Stevie
You’re right, but now I’m thinking about it and I want one… So I’m gonna go cry into ice cream with Natasha at the slow-churn place on tenth. And I’m not bringing you a pint!

His best friend is an ass. Bucky grumbles in annoyance as he stalks through the apartment and throws himself down on the sofa.

Buck
I’m not sorry I said it. Maybe one day you’ll be this lucky.

Stevie
Awww, I can’t even be an ass about it now. It’s been a long time since you thought of yourself as lucky… This guy really is good for you, and you haven’t even met him.

Buck
Don’t go and make me emotional about this, you asshole. Remember this is all your fault, Punk.

Stevie
I’m writing the Best Man speech right now, Jerk.

Bucky smiles at the screen, soft and fond, and shakes his head. His best friend is a Punk, but he wouldn’t trade Steve Rogers for anything in the world. “You better make it a hell of a speech, Stevie…”

Sprawled out on the couch, Bucky swipes away from his texts and goes back to the Instagram app. When it loads he sees a flurry of notifications, excitement and nerves making his heart lurch in his chest. Either Steve and Kate have conspired to troll him with comments –which he would not put past them- or…

“Oh my god, he wrote back!?”

 

 

*

Bruce Wayne winds down his lunch hour more or less as he began it, working his way through a stack of files with no thought to an actual break. He sits straight-backed and stern behind his desk, not a hair out of place, tie still pristine, his pocket square unblemished. To his right is a slowly diminishing stack of files, to his left a slowly growing one.

Once he gets through the stack on the right he’s free to go pick his sons up from the company day care center, and he’d rather do so sooner than later. Ensconced at his desk in his office at Wayne Corp NY, dressed in smart black on black suit with a Montblanc pen in hand, Bruce pauses in his signing to shoot a small smile at the sterling silver frame perched on his desk. In the image his six year old son Richard is beaming widely, arms wrapped around a sulky Tim, clearly sure he’s too old for hugs at the mature age of four. Dressed casually in a fitted tee (stolen from Bruce’s own closet) and dark indigo jeans, Clark is sitting beside the boys, cradling the two year old Damian in his arms. Both his husband and the toddler are beaming, bright eyed and tousle headed.

Bruce loves it even though looking at it makes his heart ache, love threatening to overwhelm him. On his weaker days, he admits it’s enough to make him set aside work and leave the office, preferring to be home with his family sooner rather than later. Perhaps because of that, it’s the only hint of personalization in the room, a glimmer of his private life perched on the handsome redwood desk that sprawls like a lazy cat. There’s an elegant blue-toned carpet set under the desk, a similar one under the padded leather chairs that form a sitting area to one side of the office. If his sons were along he likely would have slid the chairs aside and turned the boys and their mob of toys loose until he finished paperwork. Or maybe he would have sprawled on the floor with them and not gotten a thing done.

There’s a reason they’re at the daycare.

Signing off on a document and closing the file, Bruce pauses at the sudden chirp of an alert on his computer. The presence of a new email in his inbox makes him slide the files and pen aside for the moment, navigating to his inbox and opening the message.

To: Bruce Wayne dad_wayne_b@waynecorp.com

From: Tony Stark iron_stark_t@starkindustries.com

Subject: Play Date

Brucie,

Thanks for the email, it was good to hear from you. We definitely need another playdate soon, next month would be a good start? Fair warning, the Starkling and I may be in New York next week for at least a meeting. If we can’t do a sitting situation while I’m in the office, can we at least do a play date then? Check your meetings schedule and let me know what would work best, I’ll iron out plans with Pepper afterwards.

Also, because I’m sure you’re gonna see it and if you don’t (by some miracle) I am 90% certain Rhodey’s going to tell you. But, don’t freak out about the posts, ok? I promise I’m keeping it low key and it really is harmless. But if you think it will jeopardize the procedure, it won’t go any further.

Speaking of, are there updates on that project, as of yet? I can get away with a visit while I’m in NY for the meeting, right? Give my love to Clark and the boys! About next week, can we do family dinner too, if you’re not booked? Talk soon.

Tony

 

Bruce frowns at the email, brow furrowing. “Tony, what did you do?”

At his elbow, his phone chirps with a text alert. Bruce can't help but find the timing ominous, but then again, he never fails to be impressed by the efficient, protective loyalty of James Rhodes when it comes to one Tony Stark.

Rhodes
B, Have you seen Tony’s Instagram?

 

 

*

Chapter Text

There’s a swooping feeling in his stomach, along with the building urge to actually shriek out loud. Bucky sits upright for a moment, pressing his phone to his knee and drawing a few deep breaths. He’s not panicking but his heart rate feels like it’s skyrocketing. This is dumb. Calm down. Calm down, he just wrote back.

Oh god, but he wrote back. You flirted, and still.

Attempt at composure abandoned, Bucky throws himself backward again and sprawls over his sofa, wide-eyed and beaming, as he begins to read the replies to his messages. He still wants to scream, possibly to jump up and down. He’d tell his best friend but Steve has been a jerk about this whole thing and one word of this would send him toppling straight into ‘insufferable’. So Bucky doesn’t, can’t, just lays there on his sofa and stares at his phone. “He wrote back…”

He wrote back. He wrote back.

There’s a stupid, happy, fluttery feeling making itself at home in his chest. He doesn’t mind for a minute, not even when the sensation of butterflies starts in his stomach. They can both stay, to hell with everything else.

You are not a teenage girl with a crush, do not scream like one. You are not a teenage girl, Barnes, keep it together.

Oh my god, he wrote back. But James can be cool about this, can be reasonable.

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB Great to hear from you! If you like competition we may give up the California sun to walk at Fashion Week. Make sure you stay on your toes!

“Don’t tease like that, it’s just not fair… You wouldn’t come here.” Bucky mutters, leaning back against the arm of the couch to stare at the ceiling. “You wouldn’t, but I’d want you to.”

[ModelJamesB] @ MiniMechanicVsModel I would love it. If Peter doesn’t mind giving me some pointers, that would be great! And he’s welcome to Walk at Fashion Week, I know a few designers that would love to work with him!!

That’s, good, right? Restrained enough to just be playful banter.

It is so, so good Steve isn’t here right now. Beyond good. Bordering on great. James would never, never hear the end of this. Steve would film it, Kate would share it to the whole makeup department, hell it would probably make the company newsletter. Natasha would call him from whatever country she's been deployed in, reading it to him in a foreign language, and laughing until she cried. He’d never be able to face Hill again, she’d know just how ridiculous he was on the inside and his professional credibility would be dust.

'Oh my god though, wouldn't it be worth it?' Bucky thinks to himself as he types out another reply. 'So, completely worth it.'

[ ModelJamesB] @ MiniMechanicVsModel Peter should be proud of his style, he looks incredible. I can tell that you both put a lot of work into this, and it means a lot to me. As far as DUM-E goes, bring him with you when you guys come for Fashion Week. Whether we let him juggle or just hold coats between wardrobe changes can be decided later, right?

He can feel his smile widening with each one, but his breath catches on a squeak at the next, and he stares at it, not sure what to say.

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB The Mechanic here (just in case it was in doubt), thank you so much for watching and commenting on so many of our posts. It means a lot to Peter to hear from his idol, and I’m thrilled you liked the music. I don’t usually do concerts but such things are negotiable, for the right audience.

It definitely wasn't in doubt, but ok. Handsome dad figure, the Mechanic, is writing back to him. Is commenting, and, and... What? Is that flirting? It seems like flirting. A concert would be... and if James is the right audience? Wow.

[ ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel Hello Mechanic… You play beautifully. Any time you want to share, you just name the time and place and price. I’d love to hear more.

Ok so the idea of restraint has flown out the window, then. Great.

Good.

*

A case could be made for the argument that Natasha Romanov only called Steve Rogers up for an ice cream date because she knew that he'd say yes. In her defense, several friends were models and their dates may not allow splurging to the degree of slow-churned perfection, and Natasha was not about to give it up for some low fat fro-yo nonsense. Not when she could call on Steve. Because of course Steve would say yes. Even in the middle of a painting spree, clad in his ugliest clothes and half-way through a masterpiece, he would say yes if a friend asked. He was doubly likely to say yes if the friend was a female and sounded even the slightest bit downhearted. Steve was a knight in shining armor and all of his friends knew it.

Natasha was probably the only one that capitalized on it with great, evil glee, but that was an entirely different point. Besides, she only did it for ice cream emergencies, so really where was the harm?

The truth was, she had been in California for a month working with another model from Hill's agency, and she knew Steve had missed her. James and Clint and Thor had missed her too, of course they did, and they'd told her via email at least once a week, but Steve she talked to every other day about one thing or another. Even if it was something inconsequential like how her plants looked when he watered them. The man even sent her the occasional picture of them, usually in front of his latest painting, because he was that much of a nerd.

So the first thing Tasha does when she's home is drop her luggage off at her silent apartment, and call Steve Rogers up for ice cream. Steve says yes, because Steve can always be depended upon to say yes, but it's the speed of which he agrees that gives her pause today. He doesn't hesitate for a moment, sounds like he's taking a bit of vindictive glee in the idea. That's, new.

"You're already dressed, aren't you?" She asks, humor ringing through the phone. "You must not be in the middle of painting, or there'd be the slightest hesitation as you calculate how long it will take you to find an outfit and take a shower and meet me there."

"Aww come on, Tash." He grumbles, and it's adorable how he thinks that will phase her in the slightest.

"You are, I can tell. Admit it so we can move on with our lives."

"Fine, yes, I am. Went to work with Buck today." Steve grumbles. "Ice cream, the usual place?"

"Yes." Tasha agrees. She'll get it out of him later. "Fifteen minutes?"

"Texting Buck and walking out the door. Bye Tash!"

Steve Rogers is a knight in shining armor, who agrees to ice cream dates without hesitation.

Fifteen minutes later Steve sits on the terrace with Natasha, watching her work her way through a frankly alarmingly large serving of ice cream. There’s a double scoop of butter pecan slowly melting in the bowl in front of him, and he stabs idly at it with a spoon while staring morosely at the stack of their cellphones in the middle of the table. Natasha looks unbearably smug, licking her spoon clean. “Problem, Rogers?”

“You’re an extortionist, I want my best friend because he’s not mean to me.” Steve replies without hesitation, grinning at her as he’s jogged swiftly back to the present.

“I am, it is true.” She concedes with a nod, and darts her spoon across the table to steal a bite of his. “Not my favorite flavor, but if you insist on allowing it to melt like that I will rescue it from you.”

“Alright, alright.” Steve growls, curving an arm around the bowl like he’s going to defend it from her if she strikes again. “Why don’t you finish yours first? There’s got to be a pint and a half over there, how do you even have room?”

“I work hard, I play hard.” Natasha gives a careless shrug of one shoulder. “I have earned it, I shall enjoy it. You, you do not deserve good ice cream if you let it melt into a puddle. Have you and James broken up? I will be appropriately sympathetic if you wish to cry into your ice cream. But if so, you definitely should be eating it, embrace the cliché.”

“Wha?” Steve shakes his head at her. “Tasha, Bucky and I aren’t an item. I’d kill him, first, I’m telling you. I mean I love him like a brother, but I’d kill him before I dated him. We’d drive each other crazy.”

“Good for siblings, not so good for husbands.” Tasha concedes. “What is the problem then?”

“Well, it’s Bucky-”

“AHA!” She cries, triumphant, and points her spoon at him. “What did I say?”

“Not like that!” Steve corrects, swiping at her spoon so she yanks it back. “He’s… he’s been flirting with this guy on the internet.”

Tasha, still smiling smugly, has a heaping spoonful of ice cream half way to her mouth when she pauses and gapes at him. No, she is sure she did not hear what she thinks she just heard. “He what now?”

Chapter Text

Bruce Wayne is not the sort of person who panics lightly, and not over anything outside of his family. That being said, there’s no one friend that has been in his life as long as Tony has. Tony is family in the way Alfred is family, in that he’s helped Bruce pick of the pieces of a shattered life, given him comfort and strength since their childhood.

Tony’s also responsible for a few of Bruce’s gray hairs, though he eternally denies it. The thought of his friend even dipping a toe near trouble makes Bruce grind his teeth. There’s only so much he can do from across the country, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try. If Rhodey’s warning him about this now, it’s serious, whatever it is.

Not one to let Tony get too far ahead when he’s on whatever troublemaking spree of the moment, Bruce clicks frantically at his laptop to navigate to Instagram and log in. When he does, there are a flurry of notifications, mostly likes and comments on his various postings. As he’s sure that a fair few of them are from Clark, he gives a faint smile but clicks the search bar so he can go to Tony’s blog directly.

Another ping on his phone.

Rhodes 
Not Iron. Go to MiniMechanic.

That alone makes Bruce pause, tilt his head, wonder exactly what is going on. Probably not danger, he has to conclude. After all, Tony is always careful of Peter. Strictly, religiously, ridiculously careful. Half the reason for the blog set up is for saturation once the press do finally catch on. Tony’s hoping that there will be enough pictures on the kid that it won’t even be worth it to stalk him for more. It seems like a pretty sound idea, considering there’s no reason for people to pay paps thousands of dollars when they could check Tony’s Instagram for free. Maybe it even cuts down the risk of kidnapping, since so many people know who the kid is.

Bruce, once he’d gotten over the immediate kick of fear, has to admit that it makes a perfect sort of sense. Why would even the rag magazines pay money for blurry paparazzi photos when there is high quality content and a previously established, loyal fan base for the kid. It’s not a guarantee but it’s a solid idea, even Clark had agreed. But Rhodey said Tony was up to something.

Something with Peter? The last time Tony was up to something with Peter, this whole blog had started. Bruce remembers it with trepidation and fondness, sighing as he navigates back to the search and pulls up the MiniMechanic blog. For all that it had scared him at first, the page had long ago become a favorite of both his and Clark’s, if he’s being honest. It’s good to see Peter –to see Tony- acting like regular people. Tony doesn’t get nearly enough of it, too used to being ‘on’, to being recognized and stalked everywhere he goes. Bruce knows the feeling all too well, but at least he has Clark to fall back on.

Tony only has Rhodey for support, and focuses a great deal of his time and energy into Peter. What little is left after making sure his son wants for nothing, Tony funnels into the company. There’s precious little, if anything, left for Tony himself at the end of a day. Bruce can only help when Tony wants him to, when Tony’s in town for him to help in the first place. Sadly it isn’t that often, as Tony is rarely in New York, preferring to raise Peter in his beautiful California home.

Preferring to keep Peter out of the paparazzi view, and off of trash mags. Away from the insanity of New York, of models and actors on every street and paparazzi on every corner. Granted, New York had gotten better of late, but Malibu was a whole different level for laid back lifestyles. It should be simple for them to fly under the radar, out there in the sun and the sand of Tony’s private beach and cliff-side mansion.

Then again, the fact that Peter had decided to become attached to a random model and try to emulate everything he did had come as a surprise to all of them. Less of a surprise when Bruce takes into account that the model in question is wearing a custom piece of Stark tech, tech that Peter probably saw a lot when Tony was building it. So yeah, it’s understandable. And maybe it’s attributing more recognition to a toddler than one should, but Bruce knows how much time Peter spends with U, DUM-E and Butterfingers. The kid is bound to be fond of tech made by his father, and to remember that tech.

Pulling up recent photos on Peter and Tony’s modeling blog, Bruce spots the issue in short order. The model, James, has begun to like photos that they post. Has begun to comment. Has begun to….

Wait.

Flirt?

Tony flirting with someone through the blog he uses to document his son’s fashions is one thing. But the fact that the model has written back, has flirted back. Bruce is really not prepared for this level of stress about his best friend. ‘Tony, what are you doing? Can’t they at least direct message?’

A voice that sounds suspiciously like his husband’s argues. ‘It’s perfectly innocent! Besides, it’s better than him showing up on a dating app…’

Ok, he needs Clark for this. He just, he needs to actually hear Clark say some of these things.

Bruce has the phone to his ear before he can think about it. There’s really only one person he can call to hash this out with, one person who can coax back the initial surge of panic that rises when he thinks that Tony might be in any sort of danger. Still, four years of marriage has taught him something: talk it out first, and then react.

“Mmmm, the sexiest man in Gotham is calling me, and I’m all alone in my office.” Clark purrs into the phone. “What can I do for you, Mr. Wayne?”

In his mind's eye, Bruce can almost see how Clark leans back, immediately insolent and relaxed in the high-backed chair behind his desk. Likely the blinds on his office are closed, allowing him to work on articles without the distraction of the bullpen on the other side of his windows. Backlit by the sun and the sprawl of the city, dark hair assuredly a rakish sort of chaos, blue eyes bright… his husband is devastatingly handsome, and knows it. Uses it to his advantage against Bruce every chance he gets.

Bruce doesn’t really mind it, usually actively encourages the behavior. Their own sort of game. But today he’s too busy worrying about his best friend to play along.

“Hypothetically.” Bruce begins, not responding to his husband’s flirty tone.

“You know, things never go well when you start that kind of sentence with me.” Clark sighs, the flirty act gone. “What happened?”

“Hypothetically… If my best friend is flirting with a model of the internet using adorable dress up pictures of his son.”

“That’s not a hypothetical, that’s been happening for months.” Clark interrupts. “Darling, it’s old news. If you are just now having a panic reaction and you scared me half to death for no reason, so help me…”

Bruce winces, but his silence is telling.

Clark pauses, takes a deep breath, and continues evenly. “Bruce, what’s this about?”

How best to say this… “If the model in question started to flirt back-”

“Oh my god, he what?” There’s a scrabbling sound and a clatter, like Clark has thrown himself at his desk to log into Instagram.

“Baby, I need you to focus, I need you to talk me down.” Bruce grits into the phone, his hand tightening on the receiver until the plastic creaks. “Please just-”

“I’m here, honey.” Clark’s tone goes low and soothing. “There’s clearly something on your mind. Ask me.”

“Would this put his current adoption attempts at risk?”

“Oh…” Clark sounds soft and fond and like Bruce managed to crack his chest open to get at his heart. “Honey, no, of course not. Carol adopted to us multiple times, and she’s met Tony, she likes him. She likes how he gets along with the kids, and he’s going outside of one of the organizations he’s donated to. That says a lot.”

“So it’s fine.” Bruce clicks and unlocks one of the secure files on his hard drive and stares at all the data he’s managed to collect on one James Barnes. “Don’t do anything.”

“It’s more than fine, you overprotective marshmallow.” Clark replies. “Now that we’ve both panicked and recovered, I’m looking at these messages and they’re adorable. Do you think we need to step in and ask James if he wants to go steady? I’m not sure Tony will be that brave.”

“Tony could at least start messaging him, rather than talking in the open like this.” Bruce grumbles, but he closes the file for the moment.

“Darling, it’s utterly harmless.” Clark chides gently. “You and I have behaved worse at benefits, and you know that. Let them talk a little, and maybe they’ll get to messaging each other or texting. All you need to do is write to Tony and tell him that it’s fine, that we support him, and that Harley is looking forward to his visit next week. Ok?”

“Yes dear.”

“No blackmailing the nice model.” Clark warns. “The next time you call me at work, it better be so I can behave badly.”

Bruce laughs, shaking his head. “My apologies, Mr. Kent. Of course I will.”

“Better.” Clark murmurs. “Now get off this line, I have work to do.”

“Clark?” Bruce hesitates on the line, and he can hear his husband to the same. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Bruce.” Clark’s tone is soft and fond. “But I know you. So hang up, text Rhodes, and both of you leave Tony and his nice crush alone, alright?”

“Yes dear.” Bruce snarks and hangs up the call on Clark’s laughter, texting Rhodes as he was ordered.

Wayne: 
My husband, who is admittedly much more rational about Tony than we are, says it’s fine. Harmless. We’re to be supportive friends and quietly hope that they start messaging or texting before this gets too out of hand.

Rhodes: 
Alright, I trust Clark. Is this going to upset anything? Tony really loves that kid.

Wayne:
It was my concern too. Clark says no, that it really is fine. .

Rhodes:
Good. He’s looking forward to seeing the kid next week. You guys gonna have dinner while he’s there?

Wayne: 
Yeah, probably a play date too. But until then, can you keep an eye on him, Rhodey? I worry.

Rhodes: 
I know you do, man... and you know I will.

Well, all that was left was to hope for the best then.

 

*

Chapter Text

Arching a sardonic brow at his companion, because Steve is nothing if not sarcastic, the blond man starts once again. “Bucky’s been flirting with this guy-”

“There is nothing wrong with my ears, you repeat yourself and I will stab you with this spoon.” Natasha warned with a narrowing of her eyes and a threatening wave of the object in question. “In a way that makes sense, explain to me exactly what is going on with James.”

“Alright, alright.” Steve sighed, shifting in his seat and poking idly at the ice cream. “There’s this blog that I guess everyone but me and Buck knew about? A dad and his son keep dressing up like James, recreating his photoshoots, emulating different styles. It’s really cute, the kid’s maybe three and just adorable. Big brown eyes, dark curls, the works.”

Natasha isn’t the type to coo, but she looks a little soft around the edges as she braces her chin in her hand and listens. “He sounds precious, yes.”

“He is.” Steve agrees immediately. “I mean, he’s beyond cute, Tash. After I found out about it I looked at a bunch of the photos. I admit I was sorta hooked, which is why I showed Bucky the blog. Whoever the Mechanic is, this kid’s dad, he works at recreating these photo sets. But as cute as the kid is, as the blog went on, it turned out that the dad turns up in some of the photos too.”

“Not only a cute son, but an involved, attentive parent?” Tasha tilts her head, licking her spoon clean. “They are, what is the term? The whole package, then?”

“Something like it.” He scrubs a hand through his hair, staring at the ceiling. “Or at least, it looks that way on the internet.”

“Not everything on the internet is as it looks, of course.” Tasha agrees with a nod. “So, you are concerned?”

“I wasn’t at first? I just didn’t really think about it.” Steve admits. “Saw this cute kid, playing dress up as Bucky, and it was like ‘hey, he needs to see this’. So I showed him, I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

“Well, now I am quite certain things have gone wrong.” Tasha interrupts, humor in her tone. “That is a kiss of death sort of thought, Steven.”

“Yeah… I guess it was.” Steve agrees ruefully. “Because the next thing you know, Buck has taken over his official Instagram page, he’s posting stuff, and he’s talking to this guy and his kid. Harmless stuff at first, but flirty; it’s been years since Buck has flirted with anyone outside of work!”

“True.” Tasha allows, though it doesn’t seem like Steve hears her as he plows onward.

“And that? He only does that because Clint set a terrible precedence and they all know none of them mean it.” Steve clenches his teeth, grumpily shoving his ice cream to one side so he can fold his arms on the tabletop.

“I am going to remind you that you cannot reasonably blame Clint about this situation.” Tasha murmured around her latest spoonful. “He’s not here to defend himself, so I am going to point it out. Clint was a good influence on James when they first started to work together, brought him out of his shell a little bit. It is not Clint’s fault that James is now flirting with a random man on the internet.”

“No, I know.” Steve barely holds back the urge to whine.

“It doesn’t sound like you know.” Natasha shrugged, careless and only having eyes for her pilfered ice cream. “So I am saying it. You are the one that showed James this blog, with this adorable child and this attractive father. Do we know if he’s single? Not that it matters; flirting on the internet is rather harmless and I am assuming that James is out of practice so it is not likely to be very elaborate.”

“But Tasha!”

“You don’t get to be annoyed, you started it.” She shrugs, scooping up another spoonful of ice cream. “Besides, I think this will be good for both of them.”

“For both of… wait a minute, Tasha! You know him?”

The redhead glanced up with an unimpressed arch of her brow, blue eyes cool and professionally blank. “So what if I do?”

“Tell me who he is!”

“Ah, I think not.” She laughed. “But I may tell James, or I may let him tell James. Yes, that would be better, I think. Maybe James wants to talk about him, though, that would be fun. What about dinner?”

“D-dinner?” Steve looks bewildered and off-balanced, which knowing Tasha is exactly her goal. “ But-”

“No ‘but’.” She retorted airily, waving a hand before reaching out and snatching up Steve’s phone as well as her own. “Let me have these, I will arrange everything. Do you want what is left of your ice cream?”

Steve sighs, eying the remaining three melty bites left in his bowl that have survived his distraction and Tasha’s assaults with a spoon. “Sure, might as well. Even you can’t type on my phone and your phone and eat ice cream all at once.”

Cool blue eyes flash up from the phone screen, fixing on Steve’s face. “For unmelted ice cream, Steven, I bet you that I could.”

*

After his last reply, and rereading the Mechanic’s comments about the view from his California bed at least three times, Bucky decides to set his phone aside. That reply probably needs some thinking over, or he’s likely to say something a little too forward. Instead, he changes clothes and runs on his treadmill for a bit, cleans up the apartment, rehydrates as he sits down at his laptop and works on proofing some of the new photos from Hill. Maria sends him a few details about what he’s already agreed to walk in for Fashion Week, asks him about two other potential other designers.

The biggest show of the year is months away, but there’s still plenty of things to review and consider and approve or reject. Still, Careers are made or broken at Fashion Week, some people’s highest honor or achievement is to walk at Fashion Week. This is important, and a little nerve-wracking, and exciting all at once. Though it’s the first time he’s been hired to walk in it James hasn’t really been excited by the idea until now.

Now, if the Mechanic decides to turn up. Well… Maybe Peter doesn’t actually sign on for the show, and maybe they don’t even actually meet… But just the chance, the chance they might be in the audience? That’s a hell of a thrill.

“Alright, focus. Focus on now.” He grumbles to himself, shaking out of the day dream and continuing to respond to emails from Hill, Kate, and occasionally Tasha.

By the end of it all James has agreed to attend a Gala in a month’s time -on behalf of Hill- with the provision that he gets at least Steve as backup. He says no to the cocktail lunch that Natasha suggests, because it’s a strict solo event and he’d feel awkward trying to make small talk around dainty food and snobbish company. There’s a general maybe to another gala, pending information on if he gets a friend, a date, or has to go alone or with another model from the agency. He promptly agrees to the adoption benefit appearance, making a note that Steve will be attending as he donated a painting to the auction, and asking if Hill can let Tasha attend also if she’s still in the same State when the event rolls around.

Aside from all of that, Bucky has –admittedly- spent a good deal of his afternoon thinking about the Mechanic. Thankfully it’s the sort of thing that can be accomplished while he’s jogging on the treadmill or answering his emails, so it hasn’t been too detrimental to his day overall. But he knows if Steve were here –if any of his friends were here- they’d be giving him a hard time about it. So he’s glad for the solitude, and is planning on showering and changing into casual clothing when his phone lights up with a text.

Russian Roulette: 
Your presence is requested.

Brooklyn Badass: 
Oh yeah? It’s not like you to ask for anything. What’s up?

Russian Roulette: 
Do not sass me. I am only just now back home and I want dinner with my friends, yes? So you will stop whatever you’re doing and meet us, because you’d hate to disappoint me.

Brooklyn Badass: 
Friends? Tasha… do you have Steve?

Russian Roulette: 
How did you know?

Brooklyn Badass: 
I’m assuming you know that I’m sighing loudly at you. I’m also assuming you can guess I’m only moderately interested in getting him back, so your price can’t be too high.

Russian Roulette: 
You still haven’t answered as to why you guessed I have Steve.

Brooklyn Badass: 
Honestly, my cell has been suspiciously silent most of the afternoon. Alright, fine. Late dinner. You texting everyone?

Russian Roulette: 
Not many of them love or fear me as you do. I will reach out, you had better shower. Instructions on where to meet us will follow.

Brooklyn Badass: 
I am so glad you’re back from California. The lack of terrifying cryptic messages was beginning to sadden me.

Russian Roulette: 
Such sass, honestly. I will have my revenge in person. To the shower with you, James, remember that Steven is my hostage.

Bucky sighs, dragging himself to his feet and shuffling toward his bedroom. Just before he pitches the phone onto his bed, he texts Tasha a reply, and then goes to rummage for clothing.

Brooklyn Badass: 
If I meet you for dinner, will you keep him?

Russian Roulette: 
I might be persuaded…

Brooklyn Badass: 
Keep me posted, then.

*

Chapter Text

Bucky is not ashamed to admit to himself that he spends half his shower thinking about the Mechanic’s last flirty reply. He still hasn’t answered it, but he wants to… He just isn’t sure what to say. Regardless of what his reply is he knows Steve’s going to give him a hard time, which should be reassuring but just serves to make him more nervous. Still, hopefully he can think of something that will keep the Mechanic talking to him.

“Come on, Barnes.” He grits to himself as he rinses the shampoo out of his hair. “You used to be good at this, damn it.”

Yeah, used to. In person he could chat up just about anyone, before the war… Could fall for a great pair of eyes or a teasing smile or a smartass comment or lightning-quick intellect, and strike up a conversation. With the war and becoming a model and not really being interested in dating, he hasn’t had much call to practice those skills in years. In any case, flirting in person is way easier than flirting on the internet, James would bet on it. On the internet, there’s no way to gauge if a line or a joke lands.

“And saying the wrong thing means he blocks me and that’s the end of it.” He sighs to himself. “No, alright, don’t think about worst case scenario. Best case scenario, Barnes; say something amusing to keep the guy’s interest.”

It doesn’t get any better as he towels off and digs through his closet for a suitable tee to wear with his dark denim jeans and the leather jacket that is one of his go-to pieces. If someone randomly takes a picture of him on his way out to dinner, he doesn’t want Maria calling him at an ungodly hour to complain about how bad he looks.

Better to just dress well, and avoid the whole thing.

By the time he’s dressed and has his boots on he’s come up with something to send to the Mechanic. He thinks it sounds like a fair reply, though he’s not quite brave enough to send it yet. Instead Bucky reads the text from Tasha so he knows where and when the group is meeting up for dinner. There’s more than enough time to get there in a cab, but if he lingers too long in his living room he’s likely to chicken out of both the message and dinner.

“Come on, Barnes, you can do this.”

Before he walks out the door, he hits reply on his Instagram comment and tucks his phone into his pocket. It’s now or never, and at least with his friends around he’ll have a good reason not to check for a reply.

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB No fair, teaming up with the Mini to work against me! Just so you know, I can't be expected to play piano well when sleep deprived... (you have been warned.) Besides, some of us were working late and need to sleep in the mornings. The California sun will be there when I catch up, don't worry, and it looks just fine from bed too... trust me. :wink:

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel I’ll take any help I can get, Mechanic, it’s pretty clear you’ve still got an advantage. That said, you definitely should rest, I don’t want your art or anything else to suffer. Maybe you should go to bed at a reasonable time so you can enjoy a sunrise now and again? Mornings ain’t so bad… But if I say that I don’t believe you, is this where I get to tell you to prove it?

Now there’s nothing left for him to do but meet up with his friends and have dinner. He resolves to do just that, and not think about whatever replies may be waiting for him.

(He fails in the not thinking about it, but Tasha’s laughing eyes from across the table make sure he doesn’t reach for his phone for the duration of the meal.)

*

With business sorted or rescheduled and his son properly fed and newly reawakened from a nap, Tony sprawls on the sofa and scoops his son up. “Hey kiddo.”

“Papa.” Peter returns softly, sprawling over his chest and resting his cheek against the glow of the arc reactor. “Costumes?”

“Not today, Baby.” Tony smiles fondly. “We’ll play costumes soon.”

“Costumes like James, right?” His son looks up at him with big brown eyes, and Tony smiles. “I like costumes like James, Papa.”

“Yeah kiddo, costumes like James. Speaking of, you know how I post those online so Aunty Pepper and Uncle Rhodey and our friends can see them?”

“Yes, Uncle Bruce likes them too.”

“That’s right he does, Sunshine. But you know what?” Tony pauses, grinning when his son gives him a confused look.  “James sent me a message to tell me that he really likes them too. He says he’d love to meet you, maybe at a big fashion show in New York.”

Peter considers this for a moment, tilting his head. “We go?”

“We’ll certainly go back to New York, kiddo, and if you want to meet James I’ll do my best to make that happen.” Tony promises. “But for today I thought you and I would go with Uncle Rhodey to the beach and just have fun.”

“Okay.” Peter agrees. “We send a picture to James anyway?”

“Go get Uncle Rhodey and get him to help you with your beach clothes.” Tony laughs, letting his son slide to his feet. “I’ll get a picnic together and we’ll take some pictures for James.”

“Yay!”

*

“I spy, with my little eye, a hallway that is missing a Petey-Pie!” Tony calls as he bounces on his toes, clad in his black trunks and sandals. As he comes to a halt he pulls an arc reactor blue surf-skin shirt over his head and smooths it into place. “Rhodey, have you seen him?”

Leaning against the wall, Rhodey shrugs, voice pitching to carry. “No Peter Pumpkin Eater here, Tones… I guess we’ll have to go to the beach without him!”

“Let’s go, let’s go!” Peter demands, sliding around the corner and crashing into his father’s leg. He’s wearing a matching shirt and swim trunks, looking up at his father with a demanding expression. “All dressed, let’s go! Papa, up?”

“Oh, look!” Tony pretends to be surprised, grinning as he scoops his on up into his arms and gives him a playful toss. “Platypus, do you see this?”

“I see.” Rhodey hums. “But he was here last. And last one here is a rotten egg, and who wants one of those at the beach?”

“Not rotten!” Peter leans over, giving Rhodey a playful pout, upside down. “I wanna go!”

“Well, he is the Princeling, one day ruler of all these lands.” Tony looks at his best friend as he sets his son back down. “What do you think?”

“Like you’ve ever said no to that kid and meant it.” Rhodes rolls his eyes, opening the door. “Get out, both of you.”

Peter shrieks in victory and darts out the door, giggling.

“Carefully, Petey-Pie!” Tony grins and follows, slinging on a pair of sunglasses as he goes. “Coming, Honey Bear?”

“Yeah yeah, I’m comin’.” Rhodey mumbles, snapping a picture of them and texting it to Pepper.

‘Taking the Stark boys to the Beach. Remember me well!’

Stark Mansion Malibu perches high on the cliffs of Malibu point, but the property itself sprawls beyond the proud point on which the house sits. Beyond the large main yard and vibrant garden, down the winding driveway is another sprawl of manicured lawn, hosting three guest cottages and the private Stark Beach. It’s close enough to walk if one cuts through the greenery, so Tony scoops up his son, unlocks the gate and hooks a finger into Rhodey’s pocket, cheerfully dragging his best friend through the garden gate.

“Stop yanking!” Rhodey grumbles as they go, shaking him loose so he can resettle his grip on the picnic basket. “You sure you don’t want to take a car, Tones?”

“Left the boards are down at the beach shack.”  Tony admits. “You’ve got the basket and blankets. Chairs and umbrellas are there too, don’t think we really need to drag more than ourselves. Come on Golden Graham, it’s a quick walk and the Starkling could use the exercise.”

“He says as he carries the kid.” Rhodey teases.

“Papa, down!” Peter mutters obligingly. “Please?”

“Hmmm, manners were pretty good.” Tony pretends to consider, drawing to a halt as he reaches the winding path that will eventually lead them to the beach. “Kiss toll.”

“Okay!” Peter agrees promptly, pressing three kisses to his dad’s cheek. “Now, please?”

“Now.” Tony agrees, slinging Peter off his hip and swinging him playfully before setting him down on his feet. “Stay in sight please, Uncle Rhodey gets worried.”

“Okay!” Peter agrees and sprints on ahead.

“Personal branding on surf gear now?” Rhodey laughs, looking at the black ‘STARK’ logo sprawled across the shoulder of Peter’s shirt. “Your Baby and Me fashions must be expanding.”

“They are, Pepper is either wildly inventive or the best shopper on the planet.” Tony admits. “Maybe both.”

“Probably both, Tones.” Rhodey grins, slinging his hand over his friend’s shoulders. “Let’s go relax.”

*

Standing in the shallows at the private beach, Tony Stark smiles as he watches his son pile up bucket upon bucket of sand in the vague shape of a castle. Rhodey is gamely helping his little artist, sculpting towers and applying shells to decorate the lumpy structure. An in-coming wave rolls in and slaps into his chest, and Tony winces before shuffling his way back to knee-deep water.

“Wasn’t expecting that…” He mumbles, peeling the shirt up to pat at the casing for the arc reactor. “Seems like you’re holding up though…”

Tony’s got his surf-skin tee peeled up to his neck when his son rockets into his hip and sends him stumbling. He laughs as he takes the hit, regaining his foot in the shifting sand and knee-deep water before he scoops Peter up and spinning around playfully. “There you are, kiddo!”

Peter fists his small hands in the rucked up fabric, resting his chin on his dad’s shoulder and waving at Rhodey where he sits on the beach. Rhodey waves back and snaps a picture, grinning as he posts it with Tony none-the-wiser.

“What are you up to, Monkey boy?”

“Nothin.” Peter mumbles, straightening and patting at the arc reactor. “Best light ok?”

“Yeah, I’m waterproof honey.” Tony smiles.

“Good.” Peter settles immediately, tucking under his dad’s chin with a sigh. “Home soon?”

“You ready to be back in the AC with JARVIS?” Tony grinned. “Let’s pick up my rocky Rhodey and head on back, kiddo. Showers and supper. Am I carrying you home?”

“Okay.” Peter hums. “Yes. Love you, Papa.”

“I love you too, Baby Boy.”

*

James holds out until breakfast with Steve before checking the MiniMechanic Instagram, if only because the dinner party with his friends keeps him busy until an ungodly hour of the morning. Even now Clint and Thor are hogging the guest bedroom, snoring like chainsaws as he shuffles past the doorway. He closes the door but leaves them to it, shaking his head as he steps into the living room to find Steve,  barely awake and perched on the couch.

His apartment isn’t big enough for all of his friends, but they make it work out of sheer stubbornness. As long as they don’t all try to cram into the kitchen at once, all walls might actually survive. Of the original dinner party Tasha and Kate were the only ones that hadn’t stayed, but they’d been smart enough to stop drinking at a reasonable hour too. Not something that Clint and Steve could say after their drinking contest with Thor.

Pitching his voice to obnoxiously cheerful and reaching for his phone where it charges on the counter, Bucky shoots Steve is biggest grin. “Heya pal! How’s the head, Stevie?”

“Shut up and make more coffee.” Steve grumbles. “If you’re gonna get all doe-eyed about your new boyfriend, I’m gonna need it.”

“You’re just jealous, it’s adorable.” Bucky laughs but flicks the switch on the coffee pot, bouncing up to perch on the counter and open the app.

The most recent update to the MiniMechanic blog features a slant-angled shot of a stunning beach. James stares at it longingly before he scrolls to the next image and grins at the sight of the Mechanic and Peter half-buried in sand and mugging for the camera. They’re wearing matching shades and shirts, the fabric tight and clinging to the Mechanic’s chest and shoulders but hiding quite a bit of his golden skin.

Still, James can admit the view’s pretty great. He swipes sideways again and wheezes, staring at the last image. The Mechanic stands in water up to his knees, back to the beach, shirt peeled up over one shoulder like he’s in the process of taking it off completely. His back is beautiful sculpted, all golden skin over well-defined muscles, his hair still dry and carelessly ruffled, Ray Ban sunglasses in place.

MiniMechanicVsModel [WarMachine] takeover continues! Brought to the beach by my best friend and the MiniMechanic. Can’t take these two anywhere without them dressed to the nines. Today it’s matching surf gear and shades, though the Mechanic got hit by a pretty big wave before we called it a day. This is a shoutout to a certain someone, enjoy the view.   #DesignerBaby #BeachFashion #MusicMan #MyBoyWorksOut #FatherNSonFashionIcons #TIfYouDeleteThisIWillKillYou

“Shit.” James mumbles to himself, staring wide-eyed at his phone. “He’s really, really hot. I’m in trouble.”

Steve doesn’t even look up from where his face is buried in his hands, snorting softly. “You’re just now realizing that? Come on Buck, smarten up, won’tcha?”

“Shut up, Stevie.” Bucky doesn't have much else to say, he knows his best friend is right. 

Chapter Text

Tony doesn’t even think to check the Instagram account until he’s seated at the honey-colored wood of his kitchen table. Mostly he’s distracted by sipping at his coffee and watching fondly as Peter spoons through his bowl of oatmeal with determination, burying each and every blueberry while voicing their muffled shrieks and despairing cries. They’re under attack from an age-old enemy, though how blueberries can have an enemy, Tony isn’t sure. Truth be told, Peter is possibly even uttering an evil monologue in between nibbling on tangerine slices, eyes fixed on his bowl. Tony couldn’t say for certain, but it sounds plausible.

(He wouldn’t sell out his kid though, so if pressed he’d say he had no idea.)

‘He is so my kid.’ Tony thinks proudly.

“Help meeeee.” Peter keens on behalf of a blueberry. Tony’s halfway through taking a series of pictures to commemorate the whole situation when Rhodey appears, blinking blearily at them both.

The Air Force Pilot blinks at the cackling boy for several moments before slowly turning to eye his best friend. “Tones? Why is your kid evil cackling into his breakfast?”

“The blueberry kingdom has been overrun,” Tony mumbles solemnly, typing away on his phone. “It is soon to fall and there is naught that can be done. I must inform the citizens of Instagram.”

There are several beats of silence, abruptly shattered by another evil giggle from Peter as he imitates another squeaky plea for help before burying another blueberry. JARVIS remains serenely silent but records the scenario with the intent of sending it to Pepper. Personally, the AI finds his younger sibling’s antics endearing.

Watching Peter shovel his oatmeal around, Rhodey blinks in bewilderment. Glancing up at his best friend’s face, Tony muffles a snort of laughter and adds a half-dozen hashtags to the post he’s working on. Peter is adorable when he decides his meals are doomed kingdoms, it’s probably Tony’s second-favorite thing about mornings now that he has a kid.

“Yeah… Sure… Okay.” James eventually replies, shaking his head as he slumps into a high bar stool and presses his face against the marble countertop. “Blueberry Kingdom. Why do I ask? Starks always give me headaches.”

“Don’t be like that, Brown Sugar.” Tony grins, finishing the series of hashtags to his post with a flourish. That done, he begins reading through recent likes and comments. “Your life would suck without us.”

“I am not a Kelly Clarkson song,” Rhodey mumbles into the cool counter. “No, Tones.”

“You’re getting a new ringtone.” Tony threatens idly, frowning at a comment and backtracking to the post in question. “Honey Bear… Why I am I half naked on my very wholesome parenting Instagram?”

Rhodey doesn’t even bother to lift his head, but there’s a certain smirky lilt to his reply. “Oh, that? I thought your boyfriend would appreciate it.”

“You. I. What? Boyfriend ?” Tony gapes, hissing like a wet cat as he slaps his phone down on the table. “What is this, high school? Was I comatose when he offered me his lettermen jacket and asked me to the Spring Formal? Rhodey, I do not have a boyfriend.”

“Ah, yes, Sir.” JARVIS smoothly interjects. “I forgot to warn you. It seems that your most recent post, or rather, Master Rhodes’s recent post has prompted Ms. Potts to schedule a meeting at Stark Industries for nine this morning.”

“What?” Tony yelps, physically flailing in his seat until his chair rocks in place and Rhodey is forced to slap one hand down on the arm to stabilize him. “I can’t go to a meeting today, I’m watching my kid! JARVIS you see your dear, sweet, fragile sibling here. I can’t leave him with DUM-E! What kind of parent would I be, leaving two children at home, alone?”

“Sir.” JARVIS attempts to soothe, but his creator continues flailing.

“I’d be the worst father imaginable! I’d be giving credence to everyone who thought that about me when I was in my twenties! I don’t want those bas- bad, bad people to be right!”

“That was close,” Rhodes mumbled, glancing toward Peter. Thankfully, the younger Stark had progressed to eating his blueberry oatmeal while watching Tony gesticulate, and seemed unfazed. “Almost had to drop another hundred in the Swear Jar, Tones.”

“Right, yes, sorry.” Tony raked a hand through his hair. “As I was saying. I couldn’t possibly go into Stark Industries for a meeting with our favorite Ginger Dragon. I’m parenting today. All day. So much parenting.”

“Sir, if you’ll let me finish?” JARVIS cut in, his tone cool. “I was addressing Colonel Rhodes.”

“All day so I cannot possibly- what?” Tony stopped short, blinking. “Pepper wants Rhodey ?”

“Pepper wants me?” Rhodes echoes blankly. “What did I do?”

“Rhodey, what did you do ?”

“I don’t know! I was hanging out with you!”

“Oh, it could have been anything then.” Tony immediately mopes, bracing his chin in his hand as he begins to text the redhead. “So much for today’s plans. Well, you better get dressed, Honey Bear. Your meeting is soon and Ms. Potts doesn’t like to wait, I’m sure the car is already idling.”

“It is indeed, Sir,” JARVIS confirms over Rhodes’s dying-whale groan. “Mr. Hogan is eager to drive you, Colonel.”

“Great. Just… great.” Rhodey drags himself to his feet, ruffling Tony’s birds-nest hair and kissing Peter’s hair. “If I’m marching into my execution I’d at least like to know why . Listen, Pete, Tones… Just, you two be good, alright? I’m leaving JARVIS in charge while I go see Miss Pepper.”

“Bye-bye.” Peter murmurs solemnly, waving with his free hand as he hefts his sippy cup. “Papa, Juice.”

“Alright Baby Bear.” Tony coos, leaning forward with a napkin to wipe away the oatmeal Peter has spread across his chin and one cheek. “Let’s get you some juice and we’ll play Legos while we wait for Uncle Rhodey to come back.”

At this, Peter frowns. “No! No Legos without Uncle Rhodey!”

Air Force Colonel James Rhodes does not get choked up over Legos… but it is damn close. After all, how much more of a declaration of loyalty can you get from a toddler? Especially when he’s a Stark.

‘What am I going to do with these two?’ He thinks as he retraces his steps back to Peter’s chair.

“Thanks, Peter Pumpkin Eater.” Rhodey smiles, leaning down to kiss the dark curls. “You’re the best. We’ll play Legos when I come back, alright?”

“Back soon,” Peter orders softly. “Bye-bye.”

“Bye kiddo.” Rhodey sighs, nodding at Tony before he strides out of the room. “JARVIS? Tell Happy I’ll be ten minutes, I just need to get dressed.”

“Of course, Sir. If you leave within the next fifteen minutes you should arrive on time, allowing a five-minute window for any traffic deficiencies that may develop.”

“Nothing like cutting it close. Ok JARVIS, seven minutes.”

 

Chapter Text

With breakfast consumed and the dishes washed, Tony succumbs to the incredible power of Peter’s pleading eyes. He gives JARVIS a look and demands his usual kiss tax, setting his toddler loose to pick out clothes for today’s costume day. JARVIS speaks to the boy as he sprints down the hallway, fond and indulgent as they playfully bicker about the best place to go. Tony listens to them as they go, reluctant to give in to the solitary silence that settles over the kitchen.

Abandoning the room in favor of the living room only steps away, Tony has barely managed to sit down on the couch and reach for his phone when JARVIS interrupts. “Sir?”

‘So even with Rhodey abandoning me on a day off for SI Malibu, I’m only at loose ends for all of five minutes.’ Tony thinks to himself as he sets the StarkPhone aside.

“That was faster than expected. Does that mean your brother has an outfit picked out already?” He teases the AI, leaning back against the cushions to fix his attention on the ceiling. “Yes, oh favored tech-child of mine? News?”

There’s a brief pause, and then a delicate inquiring pitch to JARVIS’s tone. “About your paramour, Sir.”

Which, paramour, really? Clearly Rhodey and his AI are spending too much time together. He would love to call his AI out on the exaggeration. Except, the mere mention of James Barnes makes Tony’s nerves riot, his stomach doing an embarrassing flip and something in his chest going weak and fluttery. Which is stupid. It’s beyond stupid, really, because he’s Tony Fucking Stark.

Tony Stark has said and done a lot of things in his life, both drunk and sober. Things like design weapons and leave parties with three models hanging off of him and drive cars too fast and build jets that set records. Most of it was natural, some of it was performed while heavily sleep-deprived or quite thoroughly drunk. Sometimes a mix of both vices, if he’s honest. But none of that ever hindered the way he danced his way through a party ensuring that the right people were spoken to and the proper causes talked up and supported. None of it cost him a deal, nearly all of it added up to him being nearly shameless and very hard to rattle.

By his own choice, he’s cleaned up his act and gotten sober. He’s completely course-corrected the most powerful company in the world and straightened up their business practices. How Stark Industries bounced back, in turn, revolutionized the actions of their competitors, and still Tony manages to put Stark Industries firmly of the top of any category he cares to touch. He continuously revolutionizing various business, tech, and military industries. He’s done all of it while being fully committed to raising a toddler by himself.

And if that toddler wants to dress up like the recovering POW model his daddy built an arm for, then yeah, they’re gonna do that. Tony will buy the designer clothes, hand wash his kid’s favorite car that day, and drive them to wherever they can find to recreate the photo shoot that Peter has picked out. He will do this without hesitation, possibly while avoiding board meetings, and usually, with the full blessing, endorsement, and assistance of the most powerful female CEO in the entire world. Without reservation, or even a hint of a stutter.

He has been held prisoner by terrorists and not blinked, engineered his own escape and trekked across the desert without flinching. He’s dated an entire calendar worth of cover models, survived a war, come back from certain death, and invented (or reinvented) an element to power the new reactor he implanted in his own chest. Nothing should phase him, at this point.

But just a suggestion from his AI and his face is red, his heart kicks up, and there’s warmth creeping over his neck. Damn it, Tony Stark and Tony Stark wouldn’t blush about this. Right?

Wrong. Because he is. So there’s that

“JARVIS.” He mutters warningly.

“Of course, Sir.” The AI isn’t concerned in the slightest, only sounding amused. “Shall I display?”

“By all means, throw it up there… But if you fill it with hearts again AskJARVIS is happening.” Tony grumbles.

“Of course, Sir.”

 

[ModelJamesB] @MiniMechanicVsModel I’ll take any help I can get, Mechanic, it’s pretty clear you’ve still got an advantage. That said, you definitely should rest, I don’t want your art or anything else to suffer. Maybe you should go to bed at a reasonable time so you can enjoy a sunrise now and again? Mornings ain’t so bad… But if I say that I don’t believe you, is this where I get to tell you to prove it?

 

Tony’s brain freezes, trips, then resumes processing at his standard thousand miles an hour. ‘Ok. A model is flirting with you. Not the first time that happened. Not the first time a man has flirted with you either. Maybe the first time a man has flirted with you in public, or on the internet, or since you became a father. Especially while knowing you’re a father, but not knowing who you are. Unless he knows who you are? Unless it’s fake, it could be fake.’

Tony can’t help but think that Rhodey is probably laughing his ass off right now, even if he has no clue why.

“Uhhh… what?” Is all he says out loud, gaping at the displayed message. When the words refuse to change he shakes his head and then rubs at his eyes. “JARVIS if you’re messing with Daddy-”

“I assure you, Sir, the message is genuine,” JARVIS replies with a soft sort of earnestness. “I confirmed the IP address myself.”

For a moment, Tony’s on even ground, tsking disapproval at his ceiling. “As proud as I am of your initiative, Cupcake… We’re not supposed to stalk people. That’s when Pepper starts commenting about SkyNet, remember?”

“As I cannot give a proper shovel talk, I work with what I am given.” JARVIS retorts. “I trust you shall neglect to mention my bad behavior to Miss Potts since it directly reflects my upbringing.”

“Ouch, right in my cold, black heart.” The billionaire mumbles, grinning widely as he rests his palm over the concealed glow of the arc reactor.

JARVIS generates a crackle of static like a tsk, his tone going arch. “I was merely making a point. If I may continue, Sir?”

“By all means.” Tony jabs back, sarcasm heavy in his tone. “I do hate to interrupt. You were breaking privacy laws left, front and center, over breakfast?”

“Sir, please. Do give me some credit? Over breakfast, I was monitoring SI stock, compiling reviews over the latest StarkTech updates, and briefing Miss Potts. The moderation for Instagram was at five this morning when I had nothing else to do but watch everyone in the house sleep. I must entertain myself.”

Tony can’t help but laugh, leaning back on the couch and allowing himself to relax. “You get your insomnia from me, Honey.”

“Yes Father, I am aware.” JARVIS’s tone is warm now. “Shall I continue on about James or would you like to know your resting heart rate variations between midnight and five-thirty?”

“By all means, cyber-stalk my crush and never tell me my sleep data… unless you want me to never sleep again.”

“At least you’ve finally admitted you have a crush.” JARVIS retorts before giving a static scoff. “I am always watching… and you love it, sir.”

“My heart flutters.”

“Indeed, Sir.” The AI replies dryly. “Young Sir has selected his outfit and is preparing to accost you with requests for playing ‘Costumes Like James’ and taking one of the cars out. Shall we respond promptly then, as you are soon to be indisposed?”

“It’s almost like having that supernatural mom power when you’re on my side.” Tony teases with a smile. “Sure, let’s give the Brooklyn boy something to think about, and then we’ll take Peter out to play dress-up.”

“I await your orders, Sir.”

 

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB I return, well rested just like you ordered. As for proving things, well… You must like to live dangerously, Soldier. But if you want me to prove it, I can. When will you be in Malibu? Trust me, photos won’t do it justice so you’ll just have to come out here for yourself. I’ll even send a car to pick you up at the airport, as long as the MiniMechanic gives his approval.

 

*

“You’re ok, Buck,” Steve mumbles under his breath, giving one of his softly assuring smiles as he pauses to take a drink. “It’s just you and me having lunch, right?”

The clink of ice cubes in glassware, the sight of Steve both relaxed and concerned, remind James that he’s not alone in this, not that it’s really possible to be alone in the middle of New York. But today is one of his least favorite jobs, a casual shoot that’s supposed to be him in real life sporting whatever fashion Maria has selected for him. The getting made up and then wearing clothes out and about in the city isn’t a problem, he does that every day.

But today it’s all on Hill’s schedule, lunch is her choice, her reservation, and there are guaranteed to be cameras there. So not only is James concentrating on being pretty while he eats and not getting anything on his clothes, but he has to focus on posing at lunch while not looking like he’s posing. On a day like this, he’s essentially agreeing to personalized paparazzi for the next three to five hours. It gets to be stressful, to be exhausting, in minutes.  

Still, Hill let him keep Steve on this one, and even put the bright slate jacket she initially wanted James to wear on the fair-haired man. Having his best friend as his wingman makes a huge the difference, and the press loves to write about the upstanding American Artist on the rise. That being said, it’s the only reason James has made it this far, his nerves fraying with every minute that ticks past.

At least having Steve along also means that he gets to stay closer to his comfort zone with the clothes. Sure James can clean up and wear a colored leather jacket like just a hint of rebellion, but it’s a lot less believable than when they let him style himself down a little. Today he’s glad to wear the black, the style of it leaning more biker than fashionable New York gentleman. His hair is combed back and his sunglasses are dark, but he can get away with it as long as he keeps his face neutral or manages a few smiles. If he sulks his way through this, Hill will have a fit.

Scratch that, Hill will have a fit and then make him do it again.

Steve sits primly in the metal chair across the table and looks utterly comfortable, with his hair swept back and a fitted heather henley under the bright blue jacket. Looks like the kind of sweet boy that mothers wanted their daughters to bring home. Like he bakes artisan bread and jogs with his dog through Central Park every morning. His eyes even seem to match the color of the jacket today, golden hair brushed up except for where a wayward strand falls artfully in his face. James gives him a once over and realizes that Steve’s pants are cream-colored linen and the shoes are designer. He looks like a prep boy all grown up, a lie that works. Steve was never actually a prep boy, but he is an art geek so it’s not too far off.

For his part, James is wearing black skinny jeans and a clinging black long sleeve. The jacket is leather with bright silver rivets, studs, and zippers. He looks more like a wayward rock star than his artist friend, but Hill had seemed pleased with that before she’d shooed them away to their reservation. Managing an artful slouch rather than a sulky hunch that he really wants, James can’t help but feel like Steve’s polar opposite. Steve’s fair and brightly colored, he himself dark-haired and dressed in black. Down to Steve’s upright posture and the wide white smile he sports, while James sprawls and cultivates a cool expression, they’re foils of each other.  

Any other time, it might be reassuring. As it is, James is having a hard time. He works hard to keep his breathing even, his expression pleasantly neutral, and his shoulder relaxed. He’s probably ninety percent through this ‘candid’ lunch session with Steve, tension making the three bites he’s managed to take of his chicken salad taste like ashes on his tongue and linger in his throat. He hates this sort of work, this “dress up nice and let the paps chase you” nonsense.

“Buck.” Steve’s tone is a gentle warning, his eyes concerned. “Why don’t you play on your phone for a bit? You need to calm down.”

“I’m as relaxed as I can be, considering,” James says tightly through a flash of white teeth that’s half-snarl and half-grin. He’s careful to not touch anything with his prosthetic hand while stress courses through him, knowing that if he does he’ll crush it to pieces.

“I know.” Steve soothes. “So get out your phone and look up pictures of that kid, ok? Kate will want to hear all about your Munchkin, and you need to calm down.”

He’d argue with it, but Steve’s right and James will take any excuse he can get to look at cute Peter videos. Momentarily craving the video of the Mechanic and his piano, James has his phone out of his pocket and unlocked without a second thought. Seeing a picture of Peter is bound to improve his mood.

He must smile immediately, because there’s the sound of a shutter from across the table, and James actually considers murdering his best friend. Instagram hasn’t even loaded yet, which means he might have time an adorable picture appears and robs him of his rage. For the moment he settles for baring his teeth in a smile that has a little more snarl in it than would be considered polite. “Steven Grant, you did not just do that.”

“Listen, your boyfriend deserves a nice picture of you.” Steve counters without remorse. “I’m texting it over now and I expect you to update your Instagram in the next five minutes. Then you can spend the rest of lunch cooing over the kiddo, and I won’t say a word.”

They could be here for another hour, so the offer is a tempting one. James tilts his head, eyeing Steve over the sunglasses. “Not a word?”

Steve looks him dead in the eye, cornflower blue eyes wide, and snaps another picture. “Cross my heart, Jerk.”

A resigned sort of affection burns some of the anxiety right out of James’s chest. “You’re on, Punk.”

Chapter Text

Before anymore can be said, James’s phone gives a cheerful, bell-like tone to notify him of his incoming text from Steve. Not one to back out on a deal he navigates to the new message and lets the image fill the screen, staring at it for a moment. You certainly can’t see that he’s stressed from the picture, Steve must have a gift with timing. “Huh… ya know what? I don’t hate it.”

“Gosh, thanks, Buck.” Steve mutters with a roll of his eyes. “Don’t go on too much now, I’ll get a big head or something.”

“I mean, I’m not suggesting you give up painting or anything.” James continues, just because he can, his smile a little more genuine. “But it’s not terrible.”

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do with all this positive reinforcement,” Steve mutters to his lunch, grinning anyway. “You’re gonna embarrass me.”

“Aww, that’d be so sad, Stevie-kins… Hey, even the second one ain’t a total loss!” James perks up as he considers the second photo, having to admit it does flatter his eyes. “I think I’ll post them together and add a bunch of hashtags about how you’re quitting canvas for film and digital. Maria will be thrilled.”

“Hill wouldn’t let me behind a camera for anything less than life and death,” Steve argued flatly, looking immensely cheerful as he brandished his fork in James’s direction. “And not my or your life, no, someone important.”

“Kate, maybe?” James ponders as he sets to posting.

“Not sure if I should be worried that Kate was your first thought for a potential sacrificial lamb, or tell her so she can be flattered you think she’s that important.” Steve shook his head. “Life and death, for Hill. I think someone really big, Buck.”

James finishes typing with a flourish, then looks up with a tilt of his head. “So, Natasha?”

“Ya know what?” Steve pauses, looking thoughtful at first, then reluctantly amused. “Yeah… probably Natasha.” 

James nods, sighing as he goes back to typing. “Yeah, probably Tash. But who would ever be brave enough to tangle with her anyway?”

“Someone braver than you or I, Buck.”

“Or just dumber?” James looked up, smirking. “Clint would.”

“Clint spends entirely too much time practicing rooftop parkour and landing in dumpsters.” Steve retorted before actually considering the matter. “Which does not actually exclude him from tangling with Tasha, I notice as I say that out loud. So yeah, Clint probably would.”

James would reply, but as Steve had begun to argue he’d chosen to check his notices tab on Instagram. The most recent thing he sees is a reply comment from the Mechanic, and he clicks on it with a mix of excitement and trepidation.  As he reads over the comment the world seems to drift away, until there’s only the roar of his heartbeat in his head. It gets so loud that it drowns out the sounds of the restaurant around them, leaving him alone in his head. ‘Oh.. He… Oh.’

 

[MiniMechanicVsModel] @ModelJamesB I return, well rested just like you ordered. As for proving things, well… You must like to live dangerously, Soldier. But if you want me to prove it, I can. When will you be in Malibu? Trust me, photos won’t do it justice so you’ll just have to come out here for yourself. I’ll even send a car to pick you up at the airport, as long as the MiniMechanic gives his approval.

 

“Buck?” Steve murmurs, an edge of laughter in his tone. “Your face just got really red, man. Are you okay? Did Sam post something on your page? I told him not to mess with you.”

“Naw…” James mumbles, clearing his throat. “Not Sam.”

Steve frowns across the table, setting his fork down gently and leaning forward. He pitches his voice soft and gentle, trying to catch James’s eyes around the sunglasses. “Buck, talk to me.”

‘Right, you’re freaking out your best friend, and you’re in public.’ James clears his throat, managing a bashful smile and a bit of a shrug. “So uh, the Mechanic wrote back.”

Steve perks immediately, eyebrows climbing up his forehead and blue eyes bright and wide. “No shit? What did your boy say to make you go all bashful?”

“Shut up, Punk, he’s not my boy,” James replies in a grumble, kicking his friend under the table. “The Mechanic just mentioned that he’d be interested in proving the view from his bed is superior to what I can see here in the city.”

Steve lets out a low whistle, grinning when it makes the blush travel up James’s ears. “Well, well now! Listen to you two. Guess we better get Tasha and everyone together so they can give you advice, huh?”

“Shut up, Steve,” James mutters, clicking to the Mechanic’s blog and going still at the sight of Peter enjoying his breakfast. “Oh, aww man, no.”

He likes the pictures (because of course, he does) and then goes to the next post, loading up the video and feeling his heart go weak and mushy behind his ribs. There’s a suspiciously fluttery-warm mass in his belly where his stomach used to be, and he swallows loudly. On the screen, Peter giggles, heaping oatmeal over the blueberries and muttering to himself.

“Buck?” Steve blinks at him, looking amused and fond. “What now?”

“There are blueberries, Stevie.”

“What?”

James replays the video and shoves it across the table, waving it in his best friend’s face. “There. Are. Blueberries. Steven.

Steve catches his wrist, stabilizing the phone and leaning back so he can actually see what’s going on. At this point, he’s becoming familiar with this kid, so there’s a distant sort of fondness in his chest at the sound of the boy’s laughter. The sight of a giggly toddler squeaking voices for the blueberries that he promptly buries in oatmeal fills his vision, and he immediately understands why Bucky’s face did what it did. His is doing the same thing, in fact.

But all he manages to say out loud is, “Oh… Oh no.”

Damn it, why is that kid so cute? They’re both going to be hopeless for the rest of the day.

*

Standing off-camera and supervising a shoot, Maria Hill pauses in her directing of various employees to check her phone when it chimes an alert. The blooming notifications for social media, tags and location details ping on various apps, prompting a faint smile as she clicks the most recent box.

Breaking News: Extra has spotted the model James Barnes (@ModelJamesB) dining on the exclusive patio of a local hotspot with his best friend and artist Steve Rogers! The two were tailed by various photographers on their walk along the storefronts as they shopped and even spoke with fans before settling into lunch. During the meal, the two shared a quiet conversation, as well as several smiles and swapped phones back and forth. Could this friendship be turning into something more?

“Well, at least something is going right today.”

*

Bucky checks his newest comment and regrets it almost immediately, the icon showing him Clint Barton’s face before he even gets to the text of the message. “Barton is on to us.”

“Too bad, we’re eating under a reservation and there’s no room for a third party. If he’s good I’ll bring him leftovers.” Steve mumbles around a bite of pie.

James doesn’t bother to point out there are no leftovers to speak of, just clicks to view the comment and smiles as he reads.

[INeverMiss] @ModelJamesB Look how cute you are, giving Steve the stink eye! No wonder the press thinks you two are dating. :rolling_eyes: Good thing I have an insider source who tells me you’ve gone all gaga over a kidlet, or I’d be mad I wasn’t the first one you and Steve told. P.S. You look gorgeous, darling!

[AceArrowKate] @INeverMiss I was all ready to be annoyed with you but then you called him gorgeous. I’m taking a screen-shot of this and saving it to my file as we speak. OMG, the Incredible Hawkeye likes my work! :heart_eyes:

[INeverMiss] @AceArrowKate … Sorry, who is this?

[AceArrowKate] @INeverMiss Clinton why do you hurt me this way? That’s it, shoot-off this weekend. Bring your losing face, Old Man!

[ModelJamesB] @INeverMiss @AceArrow Kate 1. Gross, I am not dating Steve, Clint. 2. Katie, if you’re gonna run & tell my secrets I’m not sharing them anymore. 3. Both of ya can lose my number if you’re gonna be like this, I’ve got one punk in my life and that’s enough. But someone get Thor to film, I’ll laugh at whoever loses. :)

Bucky hits post with a flourish and then goes back to looking at the MiniMechanic account, smiling to himself.

The lobby of SI Malibu is brightly lit even in the early sunshine, illuminated by floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors, the floor sprawling mosaics of cream and sand-colored marble tiles. There are sound muting panels camouflaged on the high walls, so sound doesn’t bounce nearly as bad as one might expect. Between that and the state of the art tech, the room is unsettlingly quiet. Rhodey is beginning to worry he managed to really screw up, somehow, and he’s now heading toward the firing squad.

The front desk is a blend of steel and frosted acrylic, housing a diverse trio of receptionists directing people in the lobby and then crisply addressing people on the phone or via headsets. The shortest woman is actually waving away a businessman as Rhodey watches, sunlight casting bright diamonds on her dark skin and the blond of her crop-cut hair. Mack looks exasperated, while the curly-haired Mei Li at her side barely hides a giggle behind a plump hand.

Rhodey takes a final deep breath and steps up to it, managing a weak smile for the tallest girl behind the counter.

“Hey, Rhodey.” Chel grins, hazel eyes wicked behind the fall of her auburn hair. She offers him a fist bump. “Been with the Boss?”

James Rhodes laughs as he offers his own fist, bumping her twice before leaning on the counter. “Hey there, Ace. How’s my favorite Desk Monkey?”

“Rude, I’m sitting right here,” Mack grumbles off to their right, readjusting the perch of her round glasses and shooting him a warning look over it. “But I’ll let you slide, this once.”

“We’re more like canaries in the coal mine,” Chel argues.

“Meg, Rhodes is here to see Ms. Potts.” Mei Li chirps on her headset. “Chel, she says he’s clear to go up.”

“Important people like the Colonel don’t need access badges.” Chel smirks, the expression sharp and a little dangerous. “Here ya go, Rhodey.”

She slaps a smiley face sticker onto the lapel of his jacket and then jerks a thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the Executive elevator. “You know the drill, good luck.”

“Why do you have that,” Rhodey asks in his flattest tone.

“We get school groups.” Mei Li beams. “Stickers for everyone!”

“The Stark Sticker Budget is huge.” Mack murmurs thoughtfully. “Think we should blitz attack Hammer’s car?”

“Lalala, I didn’t hear that.” Rhodey shakes his head, sulking as he heads toward the elevator. “No hint at all, huh? Sphinxes, all of you.”

In creepy unison they throw him plastic smiles, chiming a singular farewell. “Thank you for visiting Stark Industries Malibu!”

“Y’all ain’t right, teasing a man who is likely to be walking to his death,” Rhodey grumbles, stepping into the waiting elevator with a wave. “No one is getting Christmas bonuses if I live. No one.”

Chel, pacing by with an armful of files, gives a final fanged grin. “If.”

“I’m supposed to be your favorite!” Rhodey yelps indignantly as the door closes. “Traitor!”

Chapter Text

With the mocking laughter of the receptionists ringing in his ears, Rhodes makes a hasty retreat by way of the executive elevator. Alone in the cubical, he allows himself an internal meltdown between floors three and fifteen, before putting himself back together well before the car comes to a halt.

'You can do this, Rhodes. You've been friends with Tony Stark for decades, nothing should scare you anymore.'  It's a nice thought, but an untrue one. Still, it helps him regain composure so he clings to it with everything he's got. 

After a swift ascent to the executive floors, the elevator doors open with the faintest whisper of sound. Resigned to his fate, a now-poised Colonel James Rhodes steps out of the box and follows the hallway to the desk. Seated behind the modern structure, smirks a petite woman with long hair that’s a shifting palette of bronze to gold. She wears a smart navy pantsuit and is typing away on a keyboard at a breakneck pace. Meg clearly expecting him, courtesy of the women at the front desk.

“James Rhodes here to see Pepper Potts?” Colonel James Rhodes introduces himself cautiously, worried by the grin the woman is giving.

Credit where credit is due, Anthony Stark never flinches from the office because of his employees, only out of reluctance to be trapped in dull meetings. It is one of the things Rhodes admires about Tony: that the man is brave enough to be surrounded by terrifyingly competent women. Pepper is just the tip of the iceberg, every Stark Industries lady has been terrifying in their own right. Forces of nature, every last one of them. 

Looking at Meg’s sharp smile, Rhodey swallows nervously. “Any chance I get a hint?”

“I thought playing taps would be just too much of a spoiler,” Meg replies with a flourish of her hands over the keys. “Miss Potts is expecting you in the Executive conference room. That’s down the hall and the third set of doors on the right.”

“You’re all mean, terrifying forces of nature… And I respect that.” Rhodey grumbles, shooting her a reluctant grin. “If the Ginger Dragon destroys me, you will have to take tidings of my demise back to Lord Stark.”

“A valiant end for a valiant knight,” Meg grins. “But not one entirely unexpected, Boss Lady is justifiably fierce. The third set of doors on your right, Colonel.”

“Thanks, Meg. Your sympathy is deeply appreciated.” Rhodey sighs as he heads off in the right direction. “Also, I’m justifiably terrified. Job well done.”

“We run the world.” She shrugs as she waves him off. “Good luck.”

*

James Rhodes enters the main conference room of Stark Industries Malibu executive floor with five minutes to spare. Pepper Potts is already there, seated at the head of the table in a cream-colored skirt and suit jacket. With her bright red hair swept up in an elegant knot, the elegant businesswoman signs off on the paper in front of her and closes the file, sliding it to one side as she looks up to watch Rhodey step through the door.

“Ahh, Colonel Rhodes.” She smiles professionally. “Still punctual, in spite of Mr. Stark’s influence? Please come in and close the door.”

“Pepper.” Rhodey returns cautiously once the door clicks shut. “Please tell me I didn’t forget about something and somehow underdress for a meeting?”

He paces across the room and leans down to brush a gentle kiss over her cheek, leaning back to give her a nervous smile. “You look beautiful and terrifying, it suits you.”

“No uniform necessary, no.” She seems to immediately relax. “Life is just easier if, on paper, we schedule these things. How are you, James?”

“Fine.” Rhodey can’t help but be wary, moving to the seat one away from her right when she directs him there with a wave of her hand. “What’s going on?”

At this point, Pepper actually looks apologetic as she watches him take his seat. “Well... This is an intervention.”

“A what?” Rhodey gapes. “An intervention? Pepper, why the hell did you schedule an intervention for me?”

“It’s not really for you, James. It’s about Tony.”

On the one hand, he’s off the hook. On the other, he’s very much in hot water and he has no idea how he wound up there. Blinking in bewilderment, Rhodes waits for her to elaborate. “And this is an intervention and not a meeting, because?”

“I would explain further, but since I am not the one who called the meeting that isn’t really my place.” She smiles brightly at him and then taps at the table smartly. “FRIDAY, if you would?”

A large screen on the far wall flares to life, and a suited blue-eyed man seated behind a massive desk appears. The view behind him is a distant cityscape, brightly lit, conveying the height of his office and a general location. He looks up from the paper with a faint frown, setting aside the pen in his hand when he sees the two of them. “Pepper, Rhodes.”

Rhodey swallows, straightening up in his seat and nodding his head in a crisp greeting. “Mr. Wayne.”

“I feel we should have a talk about my brother,” Bruce Wayne smiles, a fierce baring of teeth that’s both charming and unnerving. For a moment his eyes drift from the soldier to the businesswoman at the head of the table.

Rhodey won't say it out loud, because Bruce would gut him, but he can see how Wayne's expression softens at the sight of her.

There's a smooth purr to his voice as he speaks, straightening up at his desk and bracing his arm against the surface. “Pepper, darling Pepper, I am so glad you were able to arrange things so quickly. Your efficiency is a force to be reckoned with, I wish we could steal you away.”

“My place is at SI,” Pepper returned with a twist of her lips. “I'm sure we can agree Tony would be lost without me, and he is, of course, our favorite. Though I thank Wayne Enterprise for thinking of me, I assure you I am very happy in my current employ. Now, on to the task at hand?”

*

“Are you sure you do not wish me to accompany you, Sir?” Alfred asks as Clark places a forestalling hand on his shoulder and then opens a rear door himself.

In the rearview mirror, he can see the younger Master Wayne give a wide smile, innocent as a farm boy, and a gentle shake of his head. The reporter’s hair is growing long, curls down over his forehead and falls over the black frames of his spectacles. His eyes are ultramarine blue behind the thin barrier of glass, the rest of him bundled in a heavy black coat and thick navy scarf.

The scarf is from Master Bruce’s closet, but Alfred doesn’t bother to comment, just smiles fondly at the young man. “I assure you, I would not mind.”

“I’m sure, Alfred,” Clark confirms, stepping out of the vehicle a moment later. “I am sure you want to go do something while the boys are at school and both Bruce and I are working. Why don’t you enjoy yourself and I’ll call you when I’m ready to go home?”

“Sir, I would ask you why you’re spending your free time at a mansion full of children, considering you live in one already…” Alfred teased gently. “Were it not for the fact that I know you very nearly as well as I know Master Bruce. Very well then, I will make myself scarce. That is, if you are certain I would be of no assistance here?”

“I think that Carol and the ladies have things well in hand,” Clark soothes, tucking gloved hands into his pockets. “I promise I will inquire for you, and let you know if there’s anything they request.”

“Then I leave you to your own devices, and ask that you give the young Stark my best.” Alfred nodded.

Clark visibly wavers, glancing sidelong at the towering building behind him and then at Alfred. He never mentioned it was his intention to visit Harley, Tony’s soon-to-be-son, just that he felt the need to check in on the Orphanage as he and Bruce so often did. “Uh, Alfred, we-”

“Are not so secretive as you like to think, Master Clark.” The old man smiled. “Give the young Stark my best. Now, off with you, I have errands to run before all the young masters return home.”

Clark shakes his head and closes the door with a laugh, watching Alfred pull away before turning and walking across the loose-rock driveway toward the sweeping stairs of the Gotham Orphanage. The whole thing is a frankly stunning property, thanks to the effort of a few old money families that had been gently shamed into donating. Wayne Industries was known for lavish galas, and if one of the first sons of Gotham could take the stage at such events to speak about his experience as an orphan, about his longing to give back to children that had lost so much, well then the others certainly couldn’t let him take all the credit.

As he opens a heavy wood door and steps into a moderately sized foyer, Clark feels a small amount of amusement and pride at the memory of those galas. It is easy to recall how dashing his husband had looked in black-tie, how emotional Bruce had been when speaking about the experience of losing his parents, of being alone in the world. Then again, one such gala was how they had met, so Clark was understandably inclined to be sentimental over the whole matter.

‘It was a long time ago,’ An internal voice that reminds him of his husband points out. ‘Focus on the present, Kent.’

“Mr. Kent-Wayne,” A blonde woman dressed in jeans and a worn red tee steps into the room and greets him with a smile. “The boys saw the Rolls Royce coming up the driveway and I’m afraid there’s quite a stir. I hope you’re here to visit?”

“Yes ma’am,” Clark grinned. “Good afternoon, Captain Danvers. Sorry, I sent Alfred away. If I’d been thinking, we could have asked him to give rides.”

“I think there was enough of that the last time Bruce came to visit us,” Carol shakes her head, holding her arms out. “Drop the military address, I’m not in uniform and I don’t want to deal with it. Give me a hug, Clark, it’s been too long.”

“Sorry, Carol, the paper was madness for a bit,” Clark admits, folding his arms around the smaller woman. Retired military though she may be, he knew Carol still got up and jogged three miles before she came back to the Orphanage she ran with her wife and herded children all day long. She was still a warrior. “How’s Maria?”

“Still an HBIC,” Carol grins as she steps back. “It’s adorable when they try to slide things past her on blueprints. It’s like they forget just how many jets she’s flown, through the years. Come on, then.”

“Admittedly, I think everyone but you has forgotten just how many jets Maria has climbed in and out of.” Clark teased as he followed her down the hall and toward the main living area. “How about Monica?”

“Preparing to graduate, top of everything.” Carol is fairly glowing now, alight with pride at her daughter. “I blame Uncle Tony and Uncle Bruce for that, you can tell them both I said so. You here to see Harley?”

“Blaming Tony and Bruce is a safe bet, some way or another, they’re probably responsible.” Clark agreed. “Yeah, Tony wants to head over here within the next week for a playdate, and I was hoping you could tell me things were almost finalized?”

“Actually, I was going to call Bruce about that,” Carol admits as they move through a sprawling sitting room and past the large kitchen. “Whatever lawyers you guys have, you and Tony, definitely up their Christmas bonus.”

“That good, huh?” Clark wondered. “It’s remarkably quiet in here… They’re all outside even though it’s brisk out, aren’t they?”

“I’ve never seen things go so smoothly, it’s almost unsettling.” Carol agreed, then laughed. “Yes, every single one, including the mini mechanic. I had to rock, paper, scissors to be the one to greet you.”

“Next time just send out the mob, I don’t mind.” Clark reached for the back door and opened it, waving her through with a wide grin. “Harley break anything this week?”

“The Potato Gun has been modified for the third time,” Carol sighed. “He’s only allowed to fire it on approved targets out on the West Lawn. He’s also upgraded the toaster, so he’s in my good books this week. So far, so good?”

The reporter laughed, shaking his head as he followed her through the door to the back porch. “And we’re sure he isn’t Tony’s?”

“Well, in about seventy-two hours he will be.” Carol beamed. “So you better tell him to come and collect this kid. And maybe reinforce his windows.”

Clark’s heart leaped, and he grinned widely at her. “What, seriously?”

“I’ve filed everything on my side and it’s been approved.” Carol grinned. “Do you wanna call Tony, or should I?”

“Let me talk to the mob and then maybe we’ll both call him from your office.” Clark mused. “Maybe we’ll let Harley call him?”

“I love that,” Carol beamed, laughing when Clark lunged over and swept her up in a hug. “Whoa there, Smallville!”

“You’re a phenomenal woman, you know that?” He grinned, squeezing tightly for a moment before returning her feet to the floor. “A superhuman.”

“Cut the flattery or I’ll feed you to my minions,” Carol grumbled, flapping a hand at him before lifting it to her lips and letting out a sharp whistle. "But you know, you're not half bad either." 

Still bursting with enthusiasm, Clark plants his shoulder against a supporting pillar to wait, eyes drifting over the backyard. The ornamental gardens had been eschewed in favor of extensive kitchen gardens. The organized plots both fed the children and helped teach them responsibility. Beyond the garden lay what might be the beginnings of a hedge maze, and from within the maze arose a cacophony of sound.

“Unleash the hounds,” Carol murmurs cheerfully, watching as fifteen children of various ages came tumbling through a gap in the brush and bolted toward them.  “You’re a brave man, Clark. Or maybe just foolish.”

“Kansas farm boy that married a big city billionaire,” Clark shrugged, moving quickly down the short flight of stairs to abandon the porch in favor of the wide garden path. “Bit of both. Hey guys!”

Carol laughed, watching as the tide of bodies literally crashed into Clark. “Bit of both, indeed.”

Chapter Text

Considering how reserved the boy usually is around anyone but Tony, Clark isn’t surprised to see that Harley hangs back when the mob of kids crash into him. In spite of his best efforts, he knows he hasn’t been around as much as Bruce or Tony have been, though he at least gets a greeting smile from the quiet child. It was honestly more than he was expecting.

The rest of the group is too busy shouting questions –most of them about the car- to notice if one or two of their number are less than forthcoming, but as it is Clark has plenty of inquiries occupying his attention. He knows that being a foster kid isn’t a picnic, and kids in orphanage situations are likely to have an even rougher time of it. In spite of that, the New Gotham Orphanage is a set up more like a group home than a traditional orphanage, which seems to provide a smoother transition point into successful home placements.

Carol works hard with the kids, and the fact that she has her own history in the system certainly wins the majority over in short order. Clark and Bruce have always been welcomed for a similar reason, recognized by even the tough cases, like calling to like. Most of the present mob have come out of their shells since Carol took them in hand at the Orphanage, thriving once she pulled them out of smaller facilities in Gotham proper. Several have been adopted out of the estate too, leading her to bring new kids in and beginning the process of getting them to open up.

As far as Clark is concerned, Carol and Maria are miracle workers. He usually says so at the fundraisers his husband organizes, in between singing Bruce’s praises. It’s lucky that he has so many incredible people in his life, so many people that came out of situations where they had no loving parents raising them. He likes to think that the kids trust them because they’ve all been there, but even if that isn’t the case, the fact of the matter is that Carol and Bruce are easy to love, and so is Maria.

Fourteen voices and pairs of hands scrabble for his attention, slapping him high fives, poking him in the ribs, grabbing limbs in a hug. Wobbling on his feet, the writer laughs loudly amongst the wave of attention. “Hey now, one at a time, one at a time! It’s really great to see you all.”

“Clark!”

"Hi Clark!"

“Do you have time to help me with my paper for school?”

“Clark!”

“Was that Alfred in the car?”

“Where’s Bruce?”

"Where's Mr. Wayne?"

"Can we ride in the Royce again? Please! Or the limo!" 

Striving to catch the hands that poke at his ribs or swipe at him for a high five, Clark glances around wildly for the woman who regularly wrangles the mob. “Carol? Carol, help!”

“No dice, Smallville, you need the practice for when your own mob can talk.” Carol counters cheerfully. "Don't you want another one? I think you do!" 

That sparks a new chorus of questions, most of them about his family as the kids ask if there are new pictures or if the baby is talking yet.

“Traitor,” Clark says in between tossing out answers, but he smiles the whole time. He loves his boys.

Eventually, everyone has run out of questions for him, and they allow Carol to herd them away as they move back into the house. Waving and offering a few gentle words of farewell, Clark waits until everyone else has moved off for other rooms and then flops down onto the sofa. The back parlor has several windows that look out over the hedge maze, and is filled with comfortable chairs and couches as well as several tables.

The long coffee table at the center of the room has already been claimed, filled with all manner of wires and blocks and metal pieces. It looks like a tech explosion and a mix of LEGOs, and Clark can’t even begin to guess what it will become. Probably multiple things, given the current architect of it all. Clark glances up to the lone occupant across the table, grinning at the six-year-old boy watching him from beneath a riot of sand-colored curls. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie that looks like he swiped it from Tony, Harley sits perched on the edge of one of the couches and curled over the table. The boy looks a bit like a territorial wolf pup, poised to snarl at anyone who dares intrude on his graveyard of electronics. As the reporter watches, Harley arranges components to his liking with swift fluttering movements.

Clark had seen something similar the one time he’d been in a workshop with Tony, and once again the uncanny resemblances between the two make him shake his head. He remembers when Carol first brought Harley to the house, she had said almost immediately that the kid was wildly intelligent and technologically inclined. Even if he and Tony hadn't hit it off, he probably would have been an excellent candidate for one of the Stark Industries Young Inventor or the several Technology Scholarships. Wayne Tech offered some similar programs, but for whatever reason Clark and Carol had both just had a feeling. Harley needed to meet Tony. 

Neither of the Wayne husbands had been present at Harley and Tony's first meeting, though Bruce had briefly seen Harley at the house beforehand and confirmed Clark's gut feeling. It was Bruce that actually arranged everything, demanding that Tony 'come home to visit' and then just casually working in a trip to Carol's. Clark doesn't know the specifics, but Carol had sent him a picture of Tony and Harley. Both of them were up to their elbows in the guts of the refrigerator, and along with the image was a single line of text. 'Help me, they're getting along like a house on fire.'

The way Clark understands it, Tony's next trip resulted in he and Harley working on Maria's old Camaro. The third one Tony had brought in one of his own cars and Harley had been ecstatic to pull apart sections of the engine in the old roadster and help Tony put her back together again. At that point, it seems like it was inevitable. Tony and Harley were meant to be family, even if their similarities in personality and skill were bordering on terrifying.

The sight of them sprawled in the garage in torn jeans, surrounded by tools, was another one of those moments immortalized by Carol's quick hand with a camera. Tony had been grinning widely, dressed so casually and smeared with oil, watching Harley laugh uproariously. There had been something soft and fond in his dark eyes, something paternal and proud. Yeah, in all the ways that mattered, Harley had always been Tony's son. It just took them a while to find each other. 

Remembering it again, Clark can't help but give a soft laugh. It earns him a curious, slightly suspicious look, blue eyes narrowing under blond bangs when they dart to him. Harley doesn't miss much, and usually, most of it gets a sharp word from a cutting tongue, but today he just waits. 

"Sorry, I was just remembering..." Clark mumbled. "Nice to see you again, Harley. I know I’m probably not who you wanted to see, but if it makes a difference I’ve got news? Carol said it was ok to share.”

“You’re not so bad,” Harley allowed with a shrug of one sweater-covered shoulder. “How’s Bruce?”

“Trapped in meetings all day,” Clark answers with a grin when Harley shoots him a sympathetic grimace. “Yeah, that’s what I think too. He hates it, but it is important and he knows that and that means he won’t skip out on it. So while he’s doing that, I thought I would check on you.”

“And everyone else,” Harley reminds him. “You and Bruce are some of the most frequent visitors we have.”

“That’s because Carol stopped scaring Bruce years ago, and he likes to remind her of that every chance he gets.” Clark confided. He glances around, then leans a little closer as if offering a secret. “She still scares Tony, though.”

It’s worth mentioning the other billionaire for the light it sparks in Harley’s blue eyes. Clark can’t help but smile, picking up one of the components to fidget with it.

“The Mechanic isn’t really scared,” Harley argues, beaming widely at the project in his hands as he connects parts easily. “He just likes to play that way to make Carol laugh, he says she doesn’t do it enough. Says that if she thinks she scares him, it makes her smile, and he’ll go along with it. Carol doesn't smile enough. Tony says that people believe him when he plays the fool, so if he can do it with someone he likes and make them smile, it's all worth it." 

‘He’s willing to do stupid things for the people he cares about,’ Bruce had said before introducing Clark and Tony.

“Sounds like Tony,” Clark admits after a moment of contemplation, twisting the weird blend of metal and wires in his hand. “You and he talk about stuff like that?”

“Talk about everything,” Harley shrugs, looking intently down at the project in his hands as he screws another part in place. His expression is intent as he focuses on the invention, but he’s smirking when he continues. “We’re connected.”

“I’ve heard,” The reporter chuckles, offering the part in his hand. “Guess that makes a lot more sense than most things.”

Harley takes it but sets it and his invention aside, tilting his head curiously. “Not that this isn't fun, but you're not usually one to sit and watch me invent stuff. And if Carol was asking you for help with an intervention, I'd remember a project that possibly would have prompted it. Since nothing comes to mind, I think I'm off the hook. So... What’s the news?”

“Pretty sure you can guess,” Clark grins. "And no, you aren't in trouble or on the hook for anything. So if the newly upgraded toaster is sentient, don't tell me. Save it for someone who will really appreciate it."

There’s a sudden stillness, a moment of consideration before the boy’s blue eyes gone wide. “What… You… Seriously?”

Clark grins, pulling out his cellphone to toss it in the air and catch it again. “Yeah, it's pretty official. Do ya wanna call Tony?”

He's mostly prepared for the way that the boy vaults over the table, aiming straight for him with a joyous screech. “YES!”

Inventions and component parts and tools go flying, kicked this way and that by Harley's flailing sneakers. Neither of them pay the clattering sound any mind, though. Carol doesn't either, then again she perhaps can guess exactly what is occurring with the way Harley's shriek no doubt echoed through the house. Regardless, Clark falls back into the couch with a laugh, patting at Harley's back as the kid threatens to squeeze the life out of him in a hug. 

"I take it that this means you're excited about the whole thing," Clark wheezes. 

"YES! YES YES YES! Can we call him now?" 

"Yeah... Yeah, kid, we can call him now. I bet he's gonna be just as excited." 

*

Tony isn’t expecting his cell to ring as he strides into Stark Industries Malibu, dressed to the nines in a smart suit and ready to run circles around the Board in a blitz attack meeting. Peter is in his arms to be handed off to the daycare center for the next forty-five minutes, and he just doesn't have the time for another ridiculous argument with lawyers or reporters. The fact that it’s a generic, trilling sort of tone rather than JARVIS speaking to him is required as he’s currently walking through a lobby filled with visitors and employees that don’t know about his A.I. As he steps into the executive elevator the doors close smartly, and before he can reach for his phone his AI has the car in motion and speaks through the speakers.

“Sir?" JARVIS murmurs in his even tone. 

Peter squeals a delighted hello, waving at the ceiling.

"Hello, Peter. Sir, Mr. Kent-Wayne is calling you. Before you can overreact, I would like to inform you that I have confirmed Mr. Wayne is fine, currently holding court over a Board meeting as you are supposed to be within the half-hour.”

“So nothing’s wrong with Bruce, is what you’re saying,” Tony mutters, bouncing Peter gently as he withdraws the clear rectangle from his pocket and finds it lit up with soft blue characters. “But Clark is calling me.”

“I imagine it has to do with your playdate, Sir, you may as well answer it,” JARVIS instructs, a smile in his tone.

“You’re so bossy,” Tony laments as he swipes the answer button. “You must get that from Pepper. Clark! You old so and so, how’s my favorite reporter? Ready to move to Malibu yet? I have a beach house with your name on it, Sunshine.”

“Tony,” Clark’s tone is less wordy but his voice is warm and affectionate, possibly on the verge of laughter. “The only reason you have a beach house with my name on it is because you made sure my husband would have no excuse not to visit you whenever you require it. The codependency of the Stark-Wayne boys is well documented.”

“Lies and slander,” Tony mumbles. “Maybe I’m trying to steal you away. I like blue eyes and muscles as much as the next guy.”

“Pretty sure I am the next guy. Blue eyes are my weakness, so it would never work between us.” Clark says with faux gravitas. "Besides, the word is you're in love with a model who puts me to shame."

"How does everyone know about that already?" 

"Tony, we're talking about Bruce here. I think he knows about anyone that follows any of your media accounts in about twenty seconds. Protective is far too mild a term for my husband, bless his heart. Chances are, Bruce knew about James before you did." Clark points out.

Tony thinks of James's comments about Peter playing dress up and feels warmth suffuse him. The casual flirting with Clark was a silly, playful thing. His crush on James was already becoming something more complicated. Still, he's not prepared to admit any of that in the current situation. 

"A bunch of gossips, honestly," Tony mourns. "Peter, your Uncles are terrible."

"Yeah, your life is horrible," Clark sasses. “All the people that love you are hoping you and he hit it off, it sure is tragic. You busy?”

“Gonna run circles around the Board in a few minutes, just like Bruce.” Tony shrugged. “Not important, though. Pepper could do it solo, if she needed to. You ok? You need me to drop everything? With the jet, I could be there in-”

“Tony, Tony,” Clark cut in, laughing outright now. “We don’t need you to cut out of a meeting with the Board and fly across the country.”

“Are you sure?” Tony grumbles, glaring at the doors when they open on the daycare floor. "Hold on, Clark. Sasha, I'm in a rush and it's going to be quick but could you?"

"Hand over the kiddo and go yell at the Board," Sasha grins, reaching out for Peter as he reaches for her. "Come here, cutie. If I get twenty minutes with you, I'm gonna be excited. But I bet your Daddy kicks everyone's butts inside fifteen. It's his superpower."

"Take care of the light of my life, I'll be back soon." Tony mumbles, kissing Peter on the cheek and handing him over. "Daddy's sorry, but this will be quick and merciless and then we're going back to vacation." 

Stepping back into the elevator, Tony puts his phone to his ear again as the doors closed and the car resumed movement. "I had to drop off the kiddo at daycare. You still there, Clark?" 

“Don’t pout, it sounds like it won't take long." Clark grinned. "As I was saying, I’m afraid of Pepper too.”

“That’s because you’re a wise man,” Tony admitted as he stepped off the elevator and strode toward his office. “Everyone not armed with a shoe basket bribe fears Pepper, and even then, we approach with caution. What can I do for you then, Mr. Kent-Wayne?”

“You’re always like this,” Clark pretended to complain. “I say I won’t run away with you and we’re back to my surname. Tony, you break my heart.”

“And Pepper calls me dramatic.” Tony laughed. “Clark, Clark, my favorite brother-in-law, and outrageously talented writer. How can I be of service?”

“I’m here with someone who really wanted to talk to you, so I was hoping you could spare him a few minutes.” Clark gently elbowed Harley, winking. “But if you’re busy…”

“Anything for one of my favorite people,” Tony settled into his chair and spun around to face the windows, grinning to himself. “Who am I talking to?”

“Well, another one of your other favorite people, actually,” Clark admitted before handing over the phone.

“Hey Mechanic,” Harley grinned into the phone. “I heard there’s a car in your California garage that needs fixing. How’s your schedule in a couple of days? I know you've got the room.”

Tony goes stone-still, eyes wide as he stares unseeingly at the cityscape. “Harley?”

“Hiya Tony…” The boy muttered shyly. “I was wondering… What’s your stance on being called Dad?”